Friday, April 03, 2009

Saint Benedict the Black

April 3 the Franciscans celebrate Saint Benedict the Black, also known as Benedict the Moor or Benedict Massarari, who lived in Sicily from 1526 to 1589.

For some reason or other – perhaps my concern for racial justice – I have had a devotion to him since the 1950s. But as I read more I find him a marvelous example for us, even today.

Born a slave of African parents he was freed when he was about 21 years old. After working a while he joined some Franciscan hermits. Their group was abolished – perhaps by papal decree – but Benedict joined a nearby Franciscan friary as a lay brother, where he served as cook.

After several years he was chosen guardian (leader) of the local friary where he served for several years, after which he returned to the kitchen.

What is remarkable is that though he was an illiterate black lay brother, and former slave, he became the guardian of the friary. As far as I know this could not happen today because the Vatican has decreed that lay brothers cannot be superiors of priests (though I know that there have been a few dispensations from this law.)

But the holiness and simplicity of Benedict helped dissolve any barriers of race, education, or class in that friary and enabled the friars to live as signs of the kingdom of God.

Maybe that’s why I have this devotion to Saint Benedict. He has been for me a sign of the Kingdom of God.


Today, the Friday before Holy Week, the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán celebrates a diocesan Way of the Cross in the streets of Santa Rosa. The stations will be very much oriented to the reality of injustice here in Honduras.

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