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The Catholic Defender: Benedict the African


St. Benedict was a religious reformer who lived in Italy in the late 400s and early 500s. He is known as the “father of Western monasticism,” having established a Rule that would become the norm for innumerable Christian monks and nuns. He is the patron saint of Europe.


The birth of Benedict The Black in 1526 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black Patron Saint. He was born in Messina, Italy on the estate of Chevalier de Lanza a San Fratello. His parents, Christopher and Diana, were slaves who had been taken from Africa to Sicily.


Benedetto Manasseri, an Italian of African descent, was born near Messina, Italy to Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri in 1526. His parents, captured as slaves from Africa in the early 16th century, were brought to San Fratello, near Messina.


His parents were slaves brought from Africa to Messina, Sicily. Freed at 18, Benedict did farm work for a wage and soon saved enough to buy a pair of oxen. He was very proud of those animals. In time, he joined a group of hermits around Palermo and was eventually recognized as their leader.


(1526–89). The son of African slaves, St. Benedict is the patron saint of the people of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. He was nicknamed il moro santo, which means “the holy black” in Italian, for his exceptionally kind and good nature as a child.


Benedict held important posts in the Franciscan Order and gracefully adjusted to other work when his terms of office were up.


His parents were slaves brought from Africa to Messina, Sicily. Freed at 18, Benedict did farm work for a wage and soon saved enough to buy a pair of oxen. He was very proud of those animals. In time, he joined a group of hermits around Palermo and was eventually recognized as their leader. Because these hermits followed the Rule of Saint Francis, Pope Pius IV ordered them to join the First Order.


As he grew older he worked for the master of his parents, laboring in the fields as he raised his heart and mind constantly in prayer to the ever-living God. It was during this time that Benedict encountered a holy hermit by the name of Fr. Jerome Lanza.


Amongst the Franciscans St. Benedict quickly began to shine with eminent virtues, and the simple people of the countryside started to seek him out for advice in their troubles. Even the wild beasts respected the cave where the Franciscans kept their long vigils and austere fasts. St. Benedict reported that he was harrowed by a demon, an angel of Satan who tormented him like he did to St. Anthony. It was in this Franciscan cave that he began to work miraculous cures, for God so willed that He should be known through His humble servant.


So it was that St. Benedict began to not only give divinely inspired counsels, but soon he began to work miracles. Through prayer and the sign of the Cross St. Benedict cured maladies afflicting those who implored his help. The word began to spread and the small Franciscan grotto became nearly overwhelmed by those seeking cures from this saintly man of God. However, soon the Franciscans saw that the people of this countryside abused God’s miracles, and so they moved the hermitage to a mountain outside of Pellegrino. After Fr. Lanza’s death, St. Benedict was immediately elected head of the community.


Benedict was eventually novice master and then guardian of the friars in Palermo—positions rarely held in those days by a brother. In fact, Benedict was forced to accept his election as guardian. And when his term ended, he happily returned to his work in the friary kitchen.


In prayer his face was often seen bathed in a miraculous light. Once, his cell was so illuminated by these rays that the other brothers ran there with water, believing a fire to have started in the Monastery. The more healings he performed the more people clamored for his intercessions. His superiors ordered that he must answer all calls to him and the number grew so great that the gatekeeper began to insult and berate him for bringing so many to the monastery.


Sometimes he would hide in bushes and pray while hidden that a visitor may be healed. When confronted on it, he claimed it was the Blessed Virgin who made the miracle and that nothing could be attributed to himself.


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 Saint Francis, Benedict kept seven 40-day fasts throughout the year; he also slept only a few hours each night.


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. The liturgical feast of Saint Benedict the African is celebrated on April 4.


Among Franciscans, a position of leadership is limited in time. When the time expires, former leaders sometimes have trouble adjusting to their new position. The Church needs men and women ready to put their best energies into leadership—but also men and women who are gracefully willing to go on to other work when their time of leadership is over.


There have also been three African popes: Victor I, Melchaides (a martyr), and Gelasius I.

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