As I was researching ideas for a post on St. Valentine's day that related to animals, I came to learn about a particularly humane saint by the name of Martin de Porres, who lived in Peru in the 16th and 17th centuries.
St. Valentine's Day has come to stand for the expression of romantic love regardless of religious beliefs. I share what I've learned about St. Martin de Porres in the same vein: with attention to the sentiment and values represented by him rather than any religious message.
That said, I'm digging this Martin de Porres guy! While many of us are singing the praises of Mr. Valentine this time of year, I thought it'd be nice to meet this very special colleague of his, whose story is likely to resonate with us animal lovers.
What I find so compelling about him is that his compassion was strong, inclusive and undiscriminating. One story has him gathering up the mice in the monastery and relocating them to a safer place rather than allowing them to be exterminated. He then maintained and fed them -- not unike a modern-day trap-neuter-return program for feral cats! He is said to have healed the monastery dog who had served the monks for years and to have aided a mule whom he discovered suffering in a field -- all while tending to poor and ailing human animals with equal care and concern. He was even a vegetarian!
You DW'ers know that I often speak of our responsibility and compassion towards non-human animals in the context of social justice. I believe that acknowledging the value of another life, and protecting it from suffering, regardless of it's species is as much a part of social justice as are efforts to preserve human rights. Our society tends to focus on what separates one being from another more than on what living creatures share, such as the ability to suffer, the need for affection, and other similarities. Our tendency to place different levels of worth on the lives of "others" causes suffering of every kind.
The story of St. Martin de Porres offers a very powerful message by including our responsibility toward all animals, human or not, in a definition of compassion. There is a simplicity to this that we seem to know as children but then "unlearn" as we grow older.
So for what its worth, I say bravo and rock on St. Martin de Porres! I'm glad that all animals, human or otherwise, have you in their corner.
Oh, and please send my regards to St. Valentine!
Dr. Pia Salk