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Like much of South America, Colombia received the Christian faith from the many Spanish missionaries who came to the continent. Since then Colombians have had a rich tradition of Christianity and widely venerate three patron saints that they look up to and strive to imitate.
St. Louis Bertrand
Born in Valencia, Spain in 1526, Bertrand was related to the holy Dominican St. Vincent Ferrer. Bertrand felt a call from an early age to become a Dominican, and joined the order as soon as he possibly could. He apparently didn’t have a sense of humor, but was still kind and gentle in his interactions with others.
He was not a great scholar but became well known for his preaching. His holiness attracted St. Teresa of Avila, who consulted him when she wanted to reform the Carmelites.
Later on in his ministry Bertrand received permission to become a missionary in South America. Many miracles followed him in his new venture, including the ability to preach in Spanish, but be heard by the natives in their local language. He lived poorly to be close to the native population and was a strong advocate for them. He is sometimes referred to as the “Apostle of South America,” but spent most of his time in Colombia. After a time he returned to Spain where he died in 1581.
St. Peter Claver
Born in Verdú, Spain in 1580, he joined the Jesuits at age 20 and volunteered to minister in the Spanish colonies. He arrived first at Cartagena, Colombia and then lived for six years in the Jesuit houses of Tunja and Bogotá, before he was ordained a priest. While there he recognized the terrible way slaves were treated.
After being ordained a priest he ministered to the needs of the slaves who arrived at the trading hub of Cartagena and is said to have baptized over 300,000 souls. Claver attended not only to the spiritual needs of the slaves, but also did what he could to relieve their physical needs, bringing food and tending to their wounds. When he took his final vows he signed his name, “Peter Claver, slave of the slaves, forever.”
His charity and respect for all people continues to be an inspiration. He died in 1654 and is buried in Cartagena.
Saint Laura Montoya Upegui
The first Colombian-born saint to be canonized, she was born in Jericó, Colombia in 1874. After her father was killed in the Colombian Civil War, she was sent to live with her grandmother. Laura was eventually enrolled in “Normale de Institutoras” of Medellín to become a teacher. In this way it was believed that she could help her family, who remained in poverty.
After graduating and beginning her career as a teacher, she felt a call to the religious life. In particular she felt called to teach the native people who did not know Jesus Christ. She had a desire to “become an Indian with the Indians to win them all for Christ.”
On May 14, 1914, she left with four other young women and went to live among the natives. Her new religious community became known as the “Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena.” Many at the time thought of them as “religious goats,” who lived with the “beasts” in the wilderness. She died in 1949 and was recently canonized by Pope Francis in 2013. She was known for her great love for others, especially the poor and outcasts of society.