Black Catholic Saint Feast Day: St. Benedict the Moor, O.F.M., “The Holy Black” (April 4) – Brief Personal Reflection on His Feast Day
Today the Church celebrates the feast day of Black Catholic saint Benedict the Moor (1526-1589), a Sicilian Franciscan friar of slave origin. In his early life Benedict was often ridiculed by others for his humble background and for his skin color, but he bore this suffering patiently in a truly dignified and Christian way. Benedict, who would always take the chance to be generous in giving his wages to the poor, sold all earthly belongings and entered the religious life as a lay brother of this community at age 21. He was noted for his possession of great holiness and intuitive knowledge of the scriptures and spiritual matters. Benedict’s holy life amassed a great reputation and his sanctity and miraculous activity spread throughout Sicily. Though he desired most of all to live a quiet religious life, Benedict never refused those who came to him seeking help, prayers, or a miracle. He died April 4, 1589 at age 63 after a short illness, and three years later his body was found incorrupt. He came to be known as the “Holy Black.” He was canonized on May 24, 1807 by Pope Benedict XIV and is the patron saint of African missions, Black missions, African Americans, Black people, Palermo, Italy, San Fratello, Italy, Sicily
Benedict has a featured page on my site with even more information, but enjoy the brief reflection I have written before on his life and meaning as a Black Catholic saint.
There is definitely, I have seen, an element within a small section of the Black community in America to see Christianity as a “white man’s religion” due to the connection it has had with American chattel slavery and the well-known incident of forced conversion. For these reason and others some Black people (more younger individuals) reject the Faith because they see it as a part of what has robbed us of our African roots and heritage. Those among this thought don’t see Christianity as something “Black.” Moreover, sprouting from this mode of thought has been a small resurgence of what I call a “Black neo-paganism,” in which some try to adopt a personal interpretation of African religion with theologies that propose ancient pagan gods and even elements of self-divination in an attempt to get back to the roots of our ancestors. When I encounter this form of rejection of the Christian Faith I acknowledge the terrible history of Whites using it as an element within enslavement and subjugation but then point to the firmly-established history of African Christianity well before slavery: Ethiopian Christians, Coptic Christians, and the fact that northern Africa was largely Christian for centuries before the conquest of Islam. The Apostles and their successors and followers were bringing the True Faith straight from the beginning. Not to mention, there is the strong history of countless Blacks using Christianity to overcome the very slavery and later systematic oppression and discrimination that they faced, especially since there was never any room for either scourges against anyone who bore the Image of God in the first place. Thus, there is much within Christianity to claim as our own. There is much that is “Black.”
The Catholic Church is no different. Among the things we can claim our own, the rich heritage of Black saints is ours for the taking, for there are threads among these holy ones that bind them to us and connect us to them, so the Church is more than just a European thing. It’s always been for us too regardless of how anybody has treated us in the past. Tolton knew it, Mother Lange knew it, and St. Benedict the Moor knew it as well. The stories of the Black Catholic saints have been our stories, our history too. Just take a look at St. Benedict’s life and see how much stuff clicks for us back then and today:
- Had slave parents who were captured and in Africa, purchased, and owned by Whites
- Given “White/European” names
- Got freed
- Poor background
- Skin color and poor background made fun of and despised.
- Never given the chance of formal education.
- Menial labor job experience
- Overcame the haters
- Got hooked up with the squad (Franciscans)
- Earned respect for his hustle; spiritual game on point
- Always dressed fly (that Franciscan habit, tho)
- Young, Black, and gifted (miracles, spiritual counsel, angels helping him out)
- Gave back to the community by always helping the poor and accepted visitors; so, he never forgot were he came from and stayed real.
What do you see?
“Benedict is remembered for his patience and understanding when confronted with racial prejudice and taunts. He was declared a patron saint of African Americans, along with the Dominican lay brother, Martin de Porres.” (Wikipedia)
There are many Black Catholic parishes in the U.S. named after him.
The last thing I want to reflect on is the fact that no matter how famous he got for his holiness or his generosity or his miracles St. Benedict always remained that humble dude that just wanted to work in the kitchen and cook for his brothers. When he got famous he always accepted visitors and people seeking help with graciousness, but he never let that go to his head. Plus, even if he was never known, if he remained in obscurity, if he never was made a canonized saint for generations of others (including me) to look up, write about, and venerate by name, Benedict would have been just fine with that. He would have been content just to remain that cool, mild guy who worked in the kitchen. He still would have become a saint even if nobody ever heard of him after he died. He would have been straight with that. When I think about his life in relation to myself, would I be satisfied with that type of life, if God called me to live it? If could still make it to heaven without much notoriety while on earth, would I be cool with that? Or do I need people to know something about me? Do I want to be noted for living a good Catholic life for the sake of being known? Do I not really want to be the most famous guy but still want to be at least up there when it comes to people to remember for years to come? I guess there is a part of me that wants all that. But do I really need all that to get to heaven? No, in fact, I’m probably better off without it for the sake of my soul. St. Benedict is a reminder that “He (Jesus) must increase. I must decrease.”
St. Benedict the Moor, pray for us on your feast day!
St. Benedict the Moor is a featured Black Catholic saint on my Black Catholic Saints section.
Both images Public Domain.