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Catholic Heroes… St. Benedict The Moor

April 4, 2019 saints No Comments


Many have heard of St. Josephine Bakhita, who had been sold into slavery, was purchased by an Italian family, converted to Catholicism, and became a great saint.
There are so many wonderful African saints and one of them, like St. Josephine, was also a slave. His parents were slaves owned by an Italian family and when he was young, the owner of his parents gave him his freedom. St. Benedict the Moor — or as some called him St. Benedict the Black — possessed great virtue at a very young age.
In 1526, Cristoforo Manasseri and his wife, Diana, welcomed their son, Benedict. Both were African slaves owned by a wealthy Sicilian landowner and both converted to Christianity. Their conversion was no matter of convenience, but a conversion of deeply held beliefs in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Because the Manasseri couple had been so loyal to their owner, he granted freedom to Benedict at a very young age.
He stayed with his parents who raised him as a faithful and gentle Catholic man. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary became one of his most dear occupations.
Benedict worked in the fields of his parents’ owner, giving himself to God in prayer as he labored. One day, while working in the fields with his usual industriousness, some of his fellow harvesters were criticizing him, making disparaging remarks about the dark color of his skin. Benedict did not allow himself to be provoked and demonstrated his gentleness and humility as he bore the mocking patiently.
In God’s Providence, a Franciscan monk, Fr. Jerome Lanza, had been walking by and witnessed the reaction of Benedict to such abusive treatment. Fr. Lanza had been a wealthy knight, but had surrendered his worldly possessions to become a hermit in the order of St. Francis Assisi.
Fr. Lanza approached the group and chastised them for ill-treating Benedict. He then turned to Benedict and asked him if he would consider joining the Franciscans and dedicating himself to God.
Like Fr. Lanza, Benedict sold his worldly possessions, such as a team of oxen for which he had great affection. He joined the Franciscans to follow Christ more closely.
Benedict embraced the Franciscan lifestyle and his virtues grew quickly with him serving as their cook. The knowledge of his wisdom and charity spread quickly throughout the countryside, drawing many people to seek his counsel.
Not only humans sought his company. The animals of the forests would also come to the cave in which the Franciscans commonly kept their fasts and vigils. In this cave, Benedict was attacked by the Devil, similar to the way in which St. Anthony was attacked. Of course, he resisted and continued to be a channel of God’s grace for miraculous cures. The more Benedict humbled himself, the more God exalted him.
His prayer life deepened and his advice was truly divinely inspired. A simple Sign of the Cross brought relief to the suffering.
As more and more visitors approached the holy miracle worker, they overwhelmed the Franciscans, forcing them to move their cavern hermitage to a high mountain on the borders of San Pellegrino.
After this move, when Fr. Lanza passed away, the Franciscan community elected Benedict to be their superior. He was only 28 years old at the time.
Ten years after his election, Pope Pius IV (1499-1565) disbanded all independent communities of hermits, and they were ordered to attach themselves to an established order. Hence, Benedict and his associates joined the Order of Friars Minors. In the Palermo community of the Franciscan Friars of St. Mary of Jerusalem, Benedict was assigned the lowly position of cook for the order.
Once again his holiness and virtue came to the notice of the leaders of the community who promoted him to master of novices. Shortly thereafter, they appointed Benedict as guardian of the community, even though he was not a priest and was illiterate. Benedict protested the assignment, but accepted it in humble obedience.
During his term as vicar, Benedict ministered to the sick, assisted the poor, and guided wavering souls while diligently attending to his other responsibilities. He also implemented a stricter observance of the Franciscan rule as he himself went barefoot — even in winter — and subsisted on barely any food. His knowledge and understanding of Sacred Scripture were truly divine for a man of no education.
When he finished his term as vicar, Benedict returned to the kitchen to cook, serving admirably and with great humility. Frequently angels were seen helping him prepare meals for the friars, especially when they had extra guests. If supplies ran out, they were miraculously replenished.
Even though he was only the cook, the stream of visitors seeking a cure, advice, or comfort from Benedict grew to unmanageable numbers. The doorkeeper admonished Benedict, but he was ordered to meet all visitors seeking an audience. Benedict would seek isolation for prayer by hiding in the bushes, all to no avail.
When someone was cured, Benedict insisted that it was not himself who cured the individual. He gave all credit to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Benedict’s fellow Franciscans noted that whenever Benedict prayed, his face glowed with an internal light. Once they brought buckets of water to put out a fire in his cell because the light emanating from it was so strong, only to learn that it was from a divine source.
During his final years, Benedict continued to cook, enjoying the relative quiet of the task. As he neared the end of his life, he predicted the time of his death. He died with all the rites of the Church on April 4, 1589.
The city of Palermo mourned his passing and soon claimed the “Black Benedict” as their patron saint. He also became the patron of African missions, African Americans, and of San Fratello, Sicily.
His fame had spread far beyond Sicily as was shown when King Philip III of Spain sponsored the construction of Benedict’s tomb to hold his remains in the friary church.
His beatification took place in 1743 by Pope Benedict XIV. Pope Pius VII canonized him on May 24, 1807. Shortly after his canonization, his body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt.
Churches in Washington, D.C., Georgia, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Illinois are named in his honor.
His feast day is celebrated on April 4.
Dear St. Benedict, who touched so many hearts, touch our hearts. You learned the most difficult lesson — humility. Your wisdom did not come from studying but from union with God. Teach us to be humble and to love God above all earthly trappings. Help us to divest ourselves of our worldly attachments that we may gain the treasures of Heaven. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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