We celebrate the feast of St. Martin de Porres today. He’s often shown with his broom and those who depended on his care. Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, the son of a Spanish father and a freed black woman. He tended the sick as a nurse and a pharmacist, and in 1603 entered the Dominican order as a lay brother. Assigned to nurse the sick in the priory of the order, he also went to the sick poor beyond the priory, who welcomed his wisdom and care.
In his wonderful encyclical Laudato Si, devoted to preserving and enhancing the environment, Pope Francis observed that sometimes the poorest environment can be changed by individuals bringing love and care into it.
“A wholesome social life can light up a seemingly undesirable environment. At times a commend-able human ecology is practised by the poor despite numerous hardships. The feeling of as-phyxiation brought on by densely populated resi¬dential areas is countered if close and warm rela-tionships develop, if communities are created, if the limitations of the environment are compen-sated for in the interior of each person who feels held within a network of solidarity and belong¬ing. In this way, any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (LS 148)
I think that’s what Martin de Porres did. He turned places that were “a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.”
Extreme poverty, the pope continues, “can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations. In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social ano-nymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence. None-theless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful. Many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and to¬getherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfish¬ness overcome.”
You get the impression Pope Francis speaks from his own experience in these words. He probably would say today: that’s what saints like Martin de Porres do. They bring love where it’s needed.