Life is a gift. Every life.

Recent events in Charlottesville, Viriginia, sadden our hearts as we see the fruits of the seeds of indifference growing to maturity. This stands as the latest occurrence in a string of random acts of violence that is extremely worrisome, speaking to the permission we give ourselves to force our will over another, that one life is really not as valuable as another. These acts speak to a culture of death. That is not a Gospel lifestyle; it is incompatible with Christ and his church.

The response of the church, for each one us as the people of God, must be to create a culture of life. As Catholics, we can take our lead from St. Peter Claver. As he watched slaves being brought into port in the New World, rather than seeking to dominate, St. Peter Claver sought to serve; he did not see a race to be despised but a brother to be loved.

St. Peter Claver is the patron saint of slaves and race relations. He was a Spanish Jesuit who became a missionary in Colombia in the early 17th century. Affected by the thousands of African slaves who arrived each year to work in the Colombian gold and silver mines, he devoted his life to them. When a new slave ship came in, he ran to souls on board carrying blankets and clothes, fire and fruit, medicine and a look of love. He entered the filthy and diseased holds to minister to slaves who had survived a long voyage across the Atlantic. In the middle of a culture of death, he brought them a culture of life, inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is quoted saying “I will be the slave of the blacks forever.” During the 40 years of his ministry in Colombia it is estimated he baptized around 300,000 slaves. The power of the Gospel of life authentically lived is stronger than a culture of death.

It is true that one man or woman’s habitual indifference toward persons of other races can ripple across our neighborhoods until an accumulation of ripples results in a tidal wave of racism. It is also true that one man or woman’s conviction that we are all interconnected can cause charity to grow in our hearts and flow out into our actions as we realize that “the pain of one, even the smallest member, is the pain of all”, as St. Augustine so poignantly said.

We are a people of life, a people for life. This new column is called “Life:” and exists to be a Peter Claver-like response to loving life rather than destroying life. September 9 is the feast day of St. Peter Claver. Perhaps one of the best ways we can celebrate his feast day is to begin a ripple by affirming another life as a gift to you. “The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, until peace has found a home in each and every person” (St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, no. 165).

Cato is director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Fr. Libra is the archdiocese’s pro-life director and pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland.