Saint Benedict the Moor: Patron Saint of African Americans

One of the greatest elements of the Catholic faith is its ability to reach so many people from so many walks of life. The Catholic faith has been spread throughout the world, with Christ’s message being shared in hundreds of countries both near and far. The Church welcomes everyone no matter their race, ethnicity, or nationality. In fact, the Church celebrates these differences! Saint Benedict the Moor is a perfect example of how the Catholic Church is an all-encompassing family. Born to two African slaves, St. Benedict embraced the Catholic church and became one of the Church’s finest teachers. Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable saint!

 

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St. Benedict was born in 1526 in Italy. His parents, Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri were two African slaves that were brought to Italy (exact location is not known, but most likely near Sicily) and given new Italian names. After arriving in Italy, St. Benedict’s parents both converted to Catholicism and had their son, Benedict. Due to his parents’ “loyal service” St. Benedict was born free from slavery, but this didn’t mean his life was easy. Being a peasant, St. Benedict did not attend school, and instead spent his time working as a shepherd in his youth. Much of what he earned he gave to the poor. As he grew older, St. Benedict began to face some persecution for the color of his skin. Instead of becoming angry or upset, St. Benedict was known for being patient and dignified when these instances occurred. In fact, this humble response led to the leader of Monte Pellegrino, a group of hermits that followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, to reach out to St. Benedict to ask if he’d join the order. St. Benedict accepted, leaving behind all of his earthly possessions and joining the order as a cook. When he was only 28 years old, Benedict became the leader of the order, due to his superior knowledge of scripture and his leadership skills.

In 1564 Pope Pius IV decreed that all independent religious groups must be affiliated with a religious order. After this decree, Benedict joined the Order of Friars Minor where he was assigned to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary Jesus, where he again started as a cook. Over the years St. Benedict increased his rank, advancing to Master of Novices to eventually becoming Guardian of the Community, one of the major leadership roles. This was quite an accomplishment for St. Benedict, who remained to be a layperson due to his inability to read. (At the time, it was required that priests and religious figures be able to read and write). During his time as Guardian, St. Benedict encouraged and developed a more structured and strict Franciscan rule of life. St. Benedict was very well respected due to his very involved understanding of theology and scripture. He was seen as very wise and was often sought after for advice and console, as well as healing the sick and suffering. Later in life, St. Benedict returned to working in the kitchen, as cooking was something he greatly enjoyed.

 

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St. Benedict passed away when he was 65 years old. He passed away on the exact date and time he predicted, further proving his higher connection to Christ. His death drew attention from across the continent, and King Phillip of Spain constructed a tomb to hold St. Benedict’s remains in the friary church. In 1743 St. Benedict was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV, and he was eventually canonized by Pope Pius VII. During the beatification, it was discovered that St. Benedict’s body was incorrupt. Today St. Benedict’s legacy lives on as he is the Patron saint of African Americans, and provides a source of strength for those facing racial prejudice.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

St. Francis of Assisi: From Sinner to Saint

In case you missed it, this Wednesday was October 4th—St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day! Let’s take a closer look at one of the world’s best known saints. Not only is St. Francis well-known, but he is also an extremely respected saint, and is even represented by Pope Francis, who took the saint’s name upon his installation as Pope in 2013. So what makes St. Francis so notable? Keep reading to find out!

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Born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy, St. Francis was born into a life of luxury. His father was fairly wealthy from dealing in the cloth trade, and his mother was considered extremely beautiful. St. Francis’ family was certainly one of high social standing, which led to St. Francis being spoiled in his younger years. As he grew up, St. Francis lived the life of a sinner, being known as a rebellious teenager who was self-obsessed and prone to drinking and partying. Instead of following into his father’s footsteps as a cloth merchant, St. Francis instead dreamed of becoming a knight and fighting in epic battles. So when the war between Assisi and Perugia began in 1202, Francis immediately enlisted, thinking that his fantasies of becoming a knight would come to fruition. However, due to his complete lack of experience, St. Francis was quickly captured by enemy soldiers. Francis spent nearly a year as a prisoner in the enemy camp. While some might consider this the lowest point in St. Francis’ life, it is actually one of the most profound periods in his life.

While captured, St. Francis began to receive visions from Christ who told St. Francis to change his ways and heal the church, which at the time was rather corrupt. When St. Francis was finally released, he wasn’t the same man he was before. He began to spend most of his time in prayer and eventually he took a complete vow of poverty and devoted his life entirely to Christ. He began to preach around Assisi, and soon had 12 loyal followers. Sounds familiar right?

Now, this drastic change in Francis turned a few heads, especially those of his mother and father. As St. Francis’ fame grew to a global scale, his ties with his family were weakened. This tension grew until one day Francis stole some of his father’s cloth to pay for church expenses. His father was obviously upset, and the local bishop demanded that St. Francis return the money he bartered for the cloth. St. Francis returned the money, along with his clothing to his father and then stated “God is my only true Father.” That instance marked St. Francis’ last communicate with his parents.

After cutting of his connection with his parents, St. Francis left Assisi and began to travel from city to city preaching God’s word. During the height of his preaching, he was visiting over 5 cities a day! He was so passionate about his preaching that he even began spreading the word of God to animals on his travels, which many found extremely odd at the time. Little did he know that this would lead to his eventual patronage! Francis was a very powerful leader, gathering thousands of followers that would later be known as Franciscan Friars.

In 1224, St. Francis received the stigmata of Christ, making him the first saint to receive the holy wounds. About a year later, as St. Francis’ health declined, he returned to Assisi. By that time, people were already aware of his approaching sainthood, so Francis was guarded by the knights of Assisi to ensure that people did not try to steal relics or disturb him during his final days. St. Francis died the night of October 3, 1226 still bearing the stigmata of Christ. Just two years later, he was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. His legacy lives on in countless recorded miracles and his story shows us all how we are all called to leave behind comfort and convenience for a life dedicated to Christ, and how it’s never too late to turn from sin and turn toward Christ.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: The Church’s first Native American Saint

When one thinks of sainthood and the saints that have gone before us, we often call to mind images of perfect Catholics: baptized at birth, growing up at their local church, becoming missionaries, etc. In some cases, these perceptions are very true. But what’s more interesting is the fact that a majority of saints were actually converts—people who came to discover the faith later in life, or after the intercession of another saint or religious figure. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was one such saint. Born in 1656, St. Kateri was a member of the Mohawk clan and lived in the village of Ossernenon (northern New York state). At a young age, St. Kateri’s family contracted small pox, resulting in the deaths of both her parents and siblings. St. Kateri herself was not left unscathed, as she would carry smallpox scars with her until her death. This was often a source of embarrassment growing up, and St. Kateri would often hide her face behind a blanket or cloth to cover the numerous scars.

 

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After the death of her family, St. Kateri was adopted by her uncle, who was the chief of the Mohawk clan, and his wife. St. Kateri was described as a very patient and kind person, who was also a very skilled worker who contributed greatly to the clan. When St. Kateri reached the appropriate age, her aunt and uncle arranged marriages with several of the clan’s members, but each time St. Kateri refused. As she approached adulthood, St. Kateri befriended a local priest who instructed her on the Catechism, and at the age of 19 she converted to Catholicism, taking a vow of chastity and pledging to marry Christ alone. She was baptized under the name Catherine, for St. Catherine of Sienna. (Kateri is actually the Mohawk version of Catherine) The conversation upset her clan in several ways– not only was she still refusing to marry, but she was converting to a faith that many of the clan considered to be a product of sorcery. After this negative response from her clan, St. Kateri decided to move to a native Christian community in Montréal, Canada.

 

From there St. Kateri completely devoted her life to Christ. She would often partake in self-mortification, often in the form of fasting or burning herself. It was also rumored that she slept with thorns on her sleeping mat. She prayed often for the conversion of her Mohawk tribe, and prayed to Jesus and Mary consistently. Sadly, St. Kateri’s self-mortification led to her pre-mature death at the age of 24. After her death, it’s said that her facial scars disappeared, and that she appeared to three of her closest friends over the three days following her death. Since her death in 1680, St. Kateri has been credited with several miracles, including healing a boy with small pox in the 18th century, and the healing of a priest and nun shortly after. Once news of St. Kateri’s miracles circulated, people began gathering dirt from around her grave and wearing it in bags around their necks. One woman is known for saying that the relic saved her and her husband from disease. This continued for hundreds of years, but the miracle that would finally solidify St. Kateri’s sainthood took place in 2006 in Washington state. A young boy was suffering from an aggressive strand of flesh-eating bacteria. The boy’s parents had prayed to St. Kateri, and even enlisted the help of their friends and family to offer up intentions. One day, Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Catholic nun, came to visit the young boy and placed a bone fragment of St. Kateri on his skin. The next day the bacteria stopped spreading the boy began to recover.

 

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Saint Kateri was officially canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict EVI, after being beatified by Pope John Paul II. She was the first Native American to be recognized as a saint, and she is considered the patron saint of ecology and the environment.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

5 simple ways to grow closer to Christ

To say that we live in a busy world is an understatement. So many people find themselves caught in the constant sweep of responsibility and obligation, leaving little time for prayer, personal time, or even sleep! With all this hustle and bustle, it can be hard to find time to pray, or simply be present and allow Christ to enter into our lives. While it’s important to be responsible and take charge of your own life, it’s equally important to give Christ control of your life by growing closer to him and trusting him to direct you on the proper path. Here are 5 simple ways to grow closer to Christ that will help you live a more spiritual, peaceful, and blessed life.

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1. Wake up thankful

In today’s world, we are constantly surrounded by stressors. Be it work, school, health concerns, or personal problems—stress is not something one can ignore or simply wish away. It’s easy to focus on everything that’s going wrong in your life, and even easier to blame yourself, or others, or sometimes even God on why life may not be going your way. However, you must fight this impulse and instead of waking up and running through the list of tasks you have to get done that day, stop– take a breather– and say “thank you” to Christ for waking you up that day. Run through a list of things that you are grateful for each morning, and thank God for giving them to you. By starting your day thanking Christ, you carry Him with you throughout your day, knowing that He has already blessed you in countless ways.

2. Spend time in prayer EVERY DAY

This may seem self-explanatory– but sometimes with all the demands that come with life we forget to take a few moments and talk to God. Prayer doesn’t need to take hours, or be extremely complex. Prayer (in its most simple form) is thanking God for blessings, asking for forgiveness, and requesting prayers for yourself and others. In fact, Pope Francis has introduced the 5 finger method of prayer that helps structure prayer while also reminding you to pray each day. If you’re interested in reading more about the 5 finger approach to prayer– please check out our blog post Pope Francis’ Five Finger Prayer.

3. Read scripture

We’ve all read biographies of people we find interesting, or perhaps memoirs or autobiographies of famous people and their various adventures. Wouldn’t it be great if God had left us autobiography? NEWSFLASH– He did!! The Bible is God’s story; it shows us how He’s interacted with human kind since the beginning of time. By reading the Bible and diving into scripture, you can better understand Christ and follow the examples of the countless Biblical figures that came before us. If you don’t know where to begin, start by doing the daily Mass readings each morning. There are also several free apps available to Catholics such as Laudate and Catholic Bible that help you read the Bible and/or daily mass readings at your own pace.

4. Join a Bible study or other church group

Joining a local Bible study or prayer group can be very helpful in strengthening your relationship to Christ. Actively learning about and exploring your faith allows you to enter into a deeper relationship with Christ. Plus, surrounding yourself with other faithful people can increase your dedication to prayer and Christ.

5. Talk to Him when you’re bored

This might be the simplest thing you do all day- but there is so much power behind it. Christ is constantly trying to communicate with us, and encourages us to invite Him into every aspect of our lives. So, when you have a few moments, if you’re bored at work or on your drive home, or if you’re having a particularly bad day, don’t be afraid to take a few moments and have a quick talk with God. Your hands don’t need be folded, and your eyes don’t need to be closed. All you need is a prayerful mindset and the knowledge that God is always there to encourage you and listen.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski