St Martin de Porres

Fausto Gomez OP

On November 3 the Church celebrates the memorial of St Martin de Porres, the day of his death on earth and of his birth in heaven.


St Martin de Porres is one of the most popular saints in the Church, particularly in Latin America, but also in countries of North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. 

Who is Martin de Porres? He is a Dominican lay brother or cooperator from Peru. Born in Lima on December 9, 1579, his father was a Spanish soldier and his mother a freed slave from Panama. He lived with his mother and his sister Juana.  At home, he was in charge of going to the market to buy the daily ratio of food and vegetables. At times he went back home from the market with an empty basket. His mother asked him once (he was then about 12 years old): “Son, where is the food you bought in the market?” “Mother, I gave it to a poor child who begged me for alms.” “Son, we are also poor.” ”But, mom, the child asked me for the love of God, how could I refuse him?”

At about 14 Martin entered the Dominicans in Lima as a tertiary first. Later on, when he was 24 years old he made his profession as a lay brother. Fray Martin was a humble, joyful and prayerful person in love with Jesus, his community, the poor, and animals. At the big house of his sister, now married and rich, he gives shelter to the poor and sick. In another place, he had abandoned dogs, cats and even some mice. He was practicing Jesus’ command: “Preach the Good News to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

Martin remained in Lima all his life, although at times he was also somewhere else (gift of bilocation): in North Africa, in India, in the Philippines. What was he doing in these places? Helping captives or poor persons or others in need.

            In his time, Martin lived with three other saints in Lima: the Dominicans Juan Macias (also a lay brother like Martin) and Rose of Lima, and Toribio of Mogrovejo, Archbishop of Lima.  Martin de Porres died at 59 and was canonized by St John XXIII in 1962.

Following the path of his Father St Dominic of Guzman, Martin de Porres was very prayerful and very compassionate. The deepest longing of his life was to follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. Beside his radical devotion to Jesus as Son of God and Savior, Martin had three special devotions: to the Eucharist, the Passion of Christ and the Rosary of Mary. Every night, he worshipped the Blessed Sacrament. He was seen crying and embracing the crucifix and at times caught in ecstasy. 


Martin said: “I wish to know Jesus Christ and to identify with him through the science of love.”Following the Dominicans’ motto, Contemplata aliis tradere (to contemplate and share with others the fruits of contemplation), De Porres learned the science of love: of love of God and love of all neighbors, principally of the poor and sick neighbors. His daily prayers started in the morning with the invocation: “O Lord, we adore you, we bless you; through your cross, you redeemed us.” Thereafter, the Angelus, the Divine Office, the Minor Office of Mary and the Rosary, and in the central place the Holy Eucharist. 

True prayer leads necessarily to witnessing compassionate love, In particular his total service to God and to his Dominican community, to the poor and the sick, and to animals.

Caring for his brothers in his community was his primary preaching. He was the infirmarian of the Dominican community of the Holy Rosary Priory, barber-surgeon to the brothers of the community and to the poor and sick in the streets.  

Caring for the poor and the sick of Lima led Martin to the establishment of an orphanage and a hospital for children. Once Martin saw a poor old man who could hardly walk, his body covered with ulcers. He put him on his back and carried him to the Convent, where Martin placed him on his bed. He told the old man: “You can stay in my room.” He repeated this action at other times. No wonder he was called then Martin de la Caridad.

Brother Martin had a special affection to all God’s creatures, includinganimals. This devotion is displayed in the iconography of Martin. He is clothed with the Dominican habit that included then the black scapular. (At that time, and up to after Vatican II (1962-1965), the scapular was black for the lay brothers and white for the priests; thereafter, by 1967, white scapular for all friars.) Fray Martin is portrayed with a broom, symbol of his humility, and/or with a piece of bread, symbol of his compassion for the hungry he fed. In some images and paintings, Martin is accompanied by a cat or a dog or a mouse or a dove – or more than one of them: the animals and birds loved him and often followed him through the streets of Lima. Martin de Porres is also pictured holding a cross in his hands to signify his love for the passion of Christ.


Many people throughout the world continue being very devoted to St Martin. St John XXIII had on his table an image of St Martin de Porres to whom he was devoted. In the United States, he is one of the most popular saints.  He is much loved in Latin America, above all in Peru as is well known.

St Martin de Porres was very humble and poor in spirit and in fact. He followed faithfully his Father Dominic for whom poverty is not just a vow but an overarching value of his life and preaching. It is edifying to mention some extraordinary events in the lives of the saints, of St Martin de Porres. But these exceptional happenings in their life of union with God – as they themselves tell us – are not at all the essence of holiness, which consists in loving union with Christ, and consequently in witnessing love of God (prayer)  and neighbor (charity), in particular of the poor and sick neighbor (compassionate love). St Martin de Porres’ simple life of prayer, charity and compassion questions our life today.

A Dominican brother cooperator writes: “Caring for one another with compassion, affirming and protecting human dignity and freedom, living the virtue of charity and practicing forgiveness toward all, valuing the sacredness of human life of every person comprise the gift that St Martin de Porres embodies.”Bro. Ignatius Perkins continues: “If we have been awake and informed of systemic changes in our world today, we cannot but be aware of the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, the unwanted and the unloved” (Bro. Ignatius Perkins OP, ).

The saints do not really belong to an age or a country or a religious congregation. They are universal models for our wounded humanity and our powerful intercessors before God. Like all saints, St Martin de Porres points not to himself but to Jesus, who is the end of all devotions to the saints.  Martin’s life of prayer, fraternity and compassion questions our life and priorities and invites us to follow Jesus  

It is November 3, 1639. Fray Martin is dying. Fr Antonio Gutierrez OP, his close friend is with him. Fr. Gutierrez requests him: “Hermano Martin, the love you have shown me on earth, please show me now that you are going to enjoy the Beatitude of God.” Martin’s answer: “Maybe I will help you more from heaven.” St Martin de Porres, help us!