Saint Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579. His mother's was Anna Velazquez, a free black woman and his father's was Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman. Martin was illegitimate, and when his father saw his dark skin he despised him and for many years abandoned his son. As a young child Martin exhibited a call to holiness. People often referred to him as the "holy negro".
Because of his reputation, his father became interested in him and brought him to Spain where he saw to Martin's education. But when affairs of government called him, Juan soon abandoned his son once again. Martin then returned home to Peru and his mother. Prior to the educational opportunities provided by his father, Martin had apprenticed with a barber-surgeon.
Martin decided to enter religious life and chose the Dominican Priory of the Holy Rosary. When he entered he requested not to be a priest or a brother (both would have been barred to him by Church and State law because of his race) but instead he asked to be admitted as a lay servant, doing the lowest tasks in the house.
When his father heard this he was furious, more for his own reputation than for Martin. He demanded that his son be admitted to full rank in the Order. Even with his father's intercession on his behalf, Martin had to be commanded by the superior to become a religious brother.
Martin never forgot where he came from. His ministry as a barber-surgeon extended to the poor and most abandoned of the city of Lima. They flocked to the Priory by the hundreds. Martin slept only a few hours, he spent his days working and giving service to the needy and his nights he spent in prayer with God.
Saint Martin was an organizer. He founded an orphanage, a hospital, schools and a home for young women to stay in before being married. Martin's charity embraced not only the people of Lima but even animals would come to him to be healed.
Dominicans are called mendicant friars because they beg for their living. Martin begged in order to help the poor who asked for his help. He tried to help people so that they would grow and be able to help themselves.
Saint Martin spent his whole life doing good for others. He practiced severe austerities, eating only bread and water during Lent and he scourged his back three times during the night. Martin wore only the most thread bare habit and wore a night shirt under his habit. He also wore an iron chain around his waist.
Martin predicted his own death, falling sick with a fever. With his Dominican Brothers around his bed chanting the Salve Regina and the Creed Martin died on November 3, 1639.
Martin's Charity not only embraced the needy women and men of his time
but even the animals of the field.
Help us to be instruments of change in our world
being mindful of Your Son in the face of the Poor.
Grant this through the same Christ our Lord.