Tag Archives: Benedict the Black

Enfleshing God’s love for the poor

Today is a strange confluence of events and feasts which, for me, show God’s ongoing love for the poor.

Since March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, fell on Good Friday this year, it is celebrated today.

Yes, the Word became Flesh on a specific day; but He continues being made flesh every day – in those who are marginalized, rejected, denied love and life.


Mosaic in the Filipino style in Nazareth

Today is also the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. I clearly remember the night, staying with my parents. I especially remember the phone call from a former classmate who knew of my concern for civil rights.

Benedict the Black

Today Franciscans celebrate the death in 1589 of a saint I have revered since grade school – St. Benedict the Moor (il moro), as he was known then.

The son of African parents who had been slaves, St. Benedict was raised in Sicily. After being freed from slavery, he joined a group of hermits and was eventually chosen their superior.

When the pope disbanded all the small groups of hermits, Benedict joined the Franciscans, where he served as cook. He was chosen superior, even though he was illiterate. He was later chosen novice master but he asked to be allowed to return to the kitchen.

His simplicity, his willingness to do whatever for the glory of God, reminds me of this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Whatever is your life’s work, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.”

Today is also the feast of St. Isidore of Seville, an encyclopedic bishop and teacher, who died in 636. He once wrote these words that reflect God’s love for the poor and mistrust of riches:

“The greater our love for the things we possess, the greater our pain when we lose them.
“Greed is insatiable. The person who is afflicted with it always needs something else; the more he has, the more he wants.
“The powerful are nearly all so inflamed with a mad lust for possessions that they stay well clear of the poor. Small wonder that when they come to die that are condemned to the flames of hell, since they did nothing to put out the flames of greed during their lifetime.”

Strong words that challenge all of us.

The challenge is how to be poor like Jesus, giving ourselves for others; how to be drum majors for justice like Martin Luther King; how to be humble servants like St. Benedict the Black; and how to use our gifts for the poor.


Image at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 31st Street, NYC

An African-Italian Franciscan saint

Today the Franciscans celebrate the feast of St. Benedict the Black, also known as St. Benedict the Moor. I first read about this sixteenth century saint sometime in the 1950s. His story fascinated me.

He was born the free son of North African slaves in Sicily. He spent a number of years as a member of a group of Franciscan hermits. The small order was suppressed by the pope and he entered the Franciscans and began as a cook for the community. Even though he was illiterate and a lay brother, he was given major responsibilities, even becoming guardian of the community where he lived. They recognized the gifts of this man who had been insulted for his color and whom many would look down on for his lack of education.

Not much more is known about him.

A lay brother, illiterate, son of slaves, and black – and a saint.

In the late fifties a Franciscan priest got me a statue of St. Benedict (which is stored somewhere in Ames). I should bring it back the next time I get there.

The civil rights movement was very much on my heart during those years and to have found St. Benedict the Black helped me to root my support in my faith.

St. Benedict still inspires me as a simple witness to the dignity of all people and challenges me to respect the people I work with and recognize their gifts.