The Patron Saint of mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony.
Martin was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, the son of a Spanish knight, Juan de Porres, and a free black
woman from Panama, Anna Velásquez.
The couple were never married and after the birth of their second child, Juan departed, leaving the mother
and children to fend for themselves. For many years Martin was rejected by his father because of his dark
skin. As a child Martin grew up in terrible poverty but none the less, even at that early age, showed
considerable compassion and generosity for the poor, often parting with his mother’s meagre resources to
help those he felt to be less fortunate than himself.
Some years later Juan de Porres returned to the family and although he did not stay permanently, he saw to
Martin’s education. At the age of twelve Martin became apprenticed to a barber, which in those times also
meant that he studied surgery. Three years later he joined the Dominican order as a lay-brother working as a
barber, a surgeon and farm labourer but above all caring for the poor, whatever their race or colour.
At first the other Dominicans looked down on Martin because he was mixed-race but he eventually won them over
by his exceptional humility. He would spend his nights in prayer and penance and by day he used the skills he
had learned in his apprenticeship to nurse the sick and plague-stricken in the slums of Lima. Martin was a
prolific organiser. He
raised money by begging in order to help the poorest and most destitute of the city. He established an orphanage,
a children’s hospital in the slums and even a shelter for stray animals.
Martin was particularly concerned for the
welfare of the black slaves who had been brought to Peru from Africa and whose owners had the power of life
(and even death) over them. The Dominican community recognised Martin’s holiness to such an extent that they
accepted his spiritual direction, deferring on him the name 'Father of Charity'.
In 1639 at the age of sixty Martin died of a violent fever. At his death-bed the Spanish viceroy, the Count of
Chinchón, came to kneel before him and ask for his blessing.
Soon after Martin’s death miraculous cures were reported at his tomb, which led to a canonical enquiry in 1660 –
the first stage in the lengthy procedure initiated by the Catholic Church for the making of saints. The outcomes
of the enquiry eventually resulted in Martin’s beatification in 1837 and his canonisation as a saint by
Pope John XXIII in 1962.
St. Martin de Porres is considered to be the patron saint for people of mixed-race. He never forgot his humble
origins and through his life demonstrated that he was a man who was deeply concerned about racial justice. Three
hundred and fifty years after his death Martin de Porres is recognised as an inspiration to all those seeking
interracial harmony, not on account of any political or revolutionary activity of his but for his charity and
service to people of all races, even those too proud to accept it.