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While walking one day, St. Peter passed by a Negro.  The saint said to his companion in a low voice, "I am sorry for this poor fellow for they will cut his body in pieces."  Within a week, the sentence of death was pronounced.  


On another occasion, a man condemned to death was earnestly preparing for death.  And he really seemed prepared when, suddenly, a pardon arrived.  When the news was brought to Peter Claver, he said to those who had freed the prisoner:  "God pardon you for this, for you have taken this man's salvation out of his hands and he is in danger of never recovering it."  



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St. Peter Claver worked tirelessly in the prisons of Cartagena.  He worked especially among those condemned to death.  Here is a short narration of how he helped a captain to be hanged at Fort Santo Domingo, at four o'clock in the afternoon in the presence of the whole Dominican community.  

"The condemned man was seated on a chair beside the gibbet from which he was to hang.  Father Claver was standing nearby; he was sprinkling holy water around the condemned man.  He also carried some wine and cakes to console the condemned; he kept on reciting the Act of Contrition.  

A Dominican, very much edified, said: 'That is what being a religious means and showing what a religious should be, caring nothing for the world, going the straight road of humility.'  The crowd also was greatly impressed.  

At four in the afternoon, the hangman twisted the garrote badly that the rope broke.  The man fell to the ground but Father Claver quickly picked him up and, putting his face close to him, spoke to him in low loving tones.  As Father Claver was holding him this way and consoling the gasping man, the hangman replaced a new rope around his neck; the hangman twisted the garrote and it broke a second time.  And again Father Claver rushed to embrace the poor culprit who was horribly livid in the face and held him in his arms until he died."  


* * *



St. Peter Claver preached so simply to the prisoners.  He told them to avoid bad language, quarrels and hatred.  And that was enough to convert them.  He also reminded those condemned to die that it is a grace to know when one is going to die.  "Happy are you who know your last day and happy I should be if I knew mine."  

"It is a piece of great good fortune that death should come to us while we are in full possession of our senses and our reason is free to rest on that point on which our eternal happiness or misery depends.  We must all come to it either by a short-cut or by a long way round in time, but what does it matter if the short-cut be the hard one of the gallows if it means that the way is the more certain.  


* * *



Esteban Melon, a Neapolitan, was a criminal condemned to die for murder and theft.  The condemned man refused absolutely to go to confession.  They called in Claver who, as he usually did, converted him and prepared him for death.  But, during the execution, no official hangman was available and so they imposed the hated duty on a Moslem, Yolofo by name, a galley slave who had resided there for thirty years.  He did not like the job and ran away.  He was pursued and caught eventually.  

On the day of the execution, Fr. Claver did for Melon what he always did -- said Mass for him, accompanied him to the place of execution and, in his last moments, made him various gifts such as cake and wine.  The hangman was a novice and trembled, not being accustomed to the job; in fact, this was his first execution.  And so the rope broke three times.  The Moslem hangman began to faint;  Fr. Claver had to comfort him with cakes and wine which he had brought for the condemned man.  Every time the rope broke, Melon fell into the arms of Fr. Claver, who wiped the sweat from his livid face.  

The Moslem was profoundly moved by this extraordinary charity.  Next day, he went to the college, entered Father Claver's room, kissed him with great emotion and began his religious instruction.  He was later baptized and took the name of Pedro Zapata.














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