Saint Benedict the Black

Saint Benedict the Black
Born: 1524, Messina Italy
Died: 4th April 1589
Feast Day: 4th April
Patron Saint: African missions, black people, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Shrine: Church of Santa Maria di Gesù, Palermo, Italy
Also Known As: Benedict the Moor, Benedict of Palermo, Benedict of San Philadelphio, Benedict of Sanfratello, Benedict the African, il Moro
Beatified: May 15th, 1743 by Pope Benedict XIV
Canonised: May 24th, 1807 by Pope Pius VIII

Saint Benedict was born in Messina in 1524 to his enslaved parents, Christopher, and Diana Manasseri, who had been taken from their African home into slavery.  They were pious Christians and exemplary workers. Benedict was given his freedom at the age of 18 when he started working as a farmer for the same master, however, Benedict already knew that his one Lord and Master was God.  He was mocked for his origin and colour but remained good spirited. When he had saved enough money, he bought 2 oxen, this was the first thing he had ever owned.  He used these to plough the fields as a free-lance worker.

Eventually he met and joined a group of hermits, selling what little he had and giving the money to the poor.  He devoted himself to pray, following the ways of St Francis.  At the age of around 40, the Pope declared that all hermits following the Franciscan way should join a friary, which Benedict did and started working in the kitchen.  Benedict could neither read or write but, despite his lack of education, was chosen to train the young men joining the order and eventually became the superior of the friary.  He had not looked for leadership but accepted it humbly, while inspiring those around him to grow in their love of Jesus and to serve others.  When Benedict’s term ended as Superior, he happily went back to his work in the kitchen.

Word got around about this remarkable man and people from Sicily came to seek guidance, healing and prayer from Benedict, he was so well known and loved that, by the time he died the King of Spain paid for a special tomb to be built for him.  His body was reported incorrupt when exhumed several years later.