Afro-Latin Americans strengthen identity through St. Martin de Porres
Published: April 27, 2012
LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- An oasis of calm in a chaotic city, the cloister garden beside Lima's Santo Domingo Church is the place where St. Martin de Porres persuaded his superiors to set aside a room where he could nurse the sick and distribute food to the poor through a side door. It's also where he cajoled a dog, a cat and a mouse to eat out of the same bowl. The little garden will gain renewed attention May 6, when Latin Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the region's first black saint. History and myth meld around St. Martin, one of the region's most beloved saints. In one story, fraught with ambiguous symbolism, St. Martin rinsed a ball of solidified molasses in the garden fountain, turning the sticky mass into white sugar fit for the Dominican friars' table. The out-of-wedlock son of a Spanish man and a black Panamanian woman, he is often depicted holding a broom. While that symbol of devotion to menial tasks sometimes makes Afro-Latin Americans bristle because of its association with servitude, it is also reflects the paradox of sainthood -- one of the most humble Dominicans also became one of the order's most famous members. St. Martin de Porres also has become a beacon for modern Latin Americans of African descent, who are seeking an identity amid the poverty and discrimination in which they have lived since slave traders uprooted their ancestors from their native lands. Over generations, a message that "anything black was bad" led to a "loss of identity, rejection of one's own culture and a desire to imitate white people," said Sister Ayda Orobio, superior of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena-Missionaries of Mother Laura, a Colombian congregation.
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