African saints: St Benedict the Black

St Benedict il Moro

Benedict was born in 1526, the son of Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri, an Ethiopian couple who had been taken as slaves to San Fratello near Messina in Sicily and given Italian names so that we  don’t know their  African names.  He is known as St Benedict the Black or sometimes St Benedict the Moor (il Moro, Aethiops or Niger) and his family of origin came from Ethiopia in Africa.

When Benedict reached the age of 18, he was set free and after a while he joined a hermit called Jerome. His reputation for holiness was spread throughout the area and people flocked to him all the time. Eventually he moved to a Franciscan monastery where he spent the rest of his life serving his brothers as a cook. Even though he was a lay brother and without education, he was chosen to be their Superior and, at the end of his term of six years, he went back to the kitchen. People kept on visiting him seeking his advice and the help of his prayers.

Benedict corrected the friars with humility and charity. Once he corrected a novice and assigned him a penance only to learn that the novice was not the guilty party. Benedict immediately knelt down before the novice and asked his pardon.

In later life Benedict was not possessive of the few things he used. He never referred to them as “mine” but always called them “ours.” His gifts for prayer and the guidance of souls earned him throughout Sicily a reputation for holiness. Following the example of St. Francis, Benedict kept seven 40-day fasts throughout the year; he also slept only a few hours each night.

Benedict died at the age of 65 and, it is claimed, on the very day and hour which he had predicted. At the entrance of his cell in the Franciscan friary of St. Mary of Jesus, there is a plaque with the inscription: “This is the cell where Saint Benedict lived”, and the dates of his birth and death — 1524 and 1589. Other sources suggest he was born in 1526.

Humility, spirit of service, wisdom and powerful intercession were the special gifts bestowed on Benedict. After Benedict’s death, King Philip III of Spain paid for a special tomb for this holy friar. Canonized in 1807, he is honored as a patron saint by African-Americans. Veneration of Benedict is spread throughout Latin America, from Mexico through Argentina. In Venezuela, particularly, his devotion is spread through the country’s various states, and his Feast is celebrated on many different dates, according to the local traditions.

Estatua_de_Sao_Benedito

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