Today is the feast day of Saint Benedict the Moor. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Benedict was born at San Philadelphio or San Fradello, a village of the Diocese of Messina in Sicily, in 1526. He died 4 April, 1589. The parents of St. Benedict were slaves from Ethiopia who were, nevertheless, pious Christians. On account of their faithfulness their master freed Benedict, the first-born child.
He continued to work as a day laborer, generously sharing his small wages with the poor and spending his free time in caring for the sick. Because of his lowly origins, St Benedict the Moor was often the object of ridicule, which he bore so patiently and cheerfully that he was called even during his youth, “The Holy Black.”
When twenty-one years of age, he became acquainted with Jerome Lanze, a nobleman who had left the world to live under the rule of St Francis of Assisi. Benedict sold his few possessions, gave the money to the poor and joined the monastic group at San Fratello, later moving with them to Palermo. For many years he was happily employed in the kitchen as a lay brother at the Friary of St Mary of Jesus, but upon the death of his director, he was chosen the guardian of the friary, even though he could neither read nor write.
After serving one term in this office, he was chosen novice master, his counsels being eagerly sought by the novices, professed religious and people of every class. He possessed extraordinary gifts of prayer, was divinely given an infused knowledge of the Scriptures, and had an intuitive grasp of deep theological truths, which astounded learned men and aided him in the direction of souls.
Although St Benedict the Moor never refused to see anyone, he would have preferred to live a hidden life, unknown to the world. Toward the end of his life he willingly returned to the humble duties of the kitchen when he was relieved of all offices. He died after a short illness at the age of sixty-three, at the very hour he had predicted, and was buried with great solemnity in the common vault behind the sacristy of the church.
St Benedict the Moor was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and was canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807.
The first exhumation of his remains occurred on May 7, 1592, three years after the Saint’s death, at which time his body was found perfectly preserved.
In the year 1611, King Phillip III of Spain assumed the expense of providing in the same church, a new shrine situated on the left side of the altar of S. Maria de Gesu, to which the Saint’s incorrupt remains were transferred with great solemnity.
The sacred relic, still incorrupt but a little dry and hard, is exposed for public veneration. The face of the Saint was covered some time ago with a thin wax mask. Thus has God blessed the virtues of the former slave with the gift of incorruptibility, which blessing has endured for almost four hundred years.
St Benedict the Moor has been proclaimed the “Patron of all Negro Missions in North America.”
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff