Last week, I sat in the back row of an adoration chapel in Texas. In that row with me sat an Asian woman, a black woman, and three Hispanic women.
On New Year’s Eve, I went to Mass in Georgia. Watching people go up for communion, I was awed at the diversity. People from India, East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, North and South America, even Europe–this really is a universal Church we belong to.
And, whatever your church’s stained glass windows may suggest, the Saints are a remarkably diverse group as well. There are ten times as many Chinese Saints as American Saints, and while many of the ones we know best are white, even some of those aren’t as blond and blue-eyed as the statues in our Irish-built churches would lead us to believe.
So for Black History Month, I thought it might be nice to get to know some of the many Saints with roots in Africa. With some of the older ones, it’s hard to know exactly what race they may have been, but to my mind there’s no reason to assume someone from North Africa didn’t have some traditionally African features.
I’ll be sharing one of these Saints (or Saints-to-be) every day over on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #BlackSaints, so follow me over there to keep these heroes of the faith before your eyes this month. FYI, this is just a small sampling of the many, many black Saints. And believe me, there are some incredible stories in here.
- Bl. Victoire Rasoamanarivo
- St. Moses the Black
- Bl. Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa
- Pope St. Victor I
- St. Martin de Porres
- Servant of God Augustus Tolton
- Ven. Henriette deLille
- St. Josephine Bakhita
- Sts. Augustine and Monica
- St. Charles Lwanga
Bl. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi
- St. Mary of Egypt
- Ven. Pierre Toussaint
- Servant of God Julia Greeley
- St. Antonio Vieira
- Servant of God Mary Elizabeth Lange
- Sts. Timothy and Maura
- St. Cyprian of Carthage
- Our Lady of Kibeho
- Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
- Ven. Teresa Chikaba
- St. Maurice
- Bl. Isidore Bakanja
- St. Simon of Cyrene
- Bl. Marie-Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta
- Bl. Benedict Daswa
- St. Benedict the Moor
- Ven. Zeinab Alif
Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo (1848-1894) was born a pagan princess and ultimately became an activist, a contemplative, and a national hero. After she converted to Catholicism in her teens, she experienced extreme persecution from her family, even an attempted assassination arranged by her husband. When Bl. Victoire was 35, the queen of Madagascar sent all the priests in the country into exile. They left the care of the Church in Bl. Victoire's hands. When the government locked the churches, she presented herself before the queen and the prime minister to object. When they stationed soldiers outside to bar entry for prayer, Victoire calmly approached the armed men, saying, “If you must have blood, begin by shedding mine. Fear will not keep us from assembling for prayer.” She stared them down, then led the assembled community into the church. After the missionaries' return, she worked with prisoners, lepers, and the abandoned poor, and when the uncle who had so persecuted her fell out of favor with the court, she cared for him as well. Finally, at the age of 46, this strong and courageous leader went home peacefully to Christ. #BlackSaints #BlackHistoryMonth
St Moses the Black was basically a land pirate. A former slave, he became the ringleader of a band of 75 outlaws. This guy delighted in murder, fornication, and revenge, once swimming the mile-wide Nile with a dagger in his teeth to knife a guy whose dog had barked at him. Eventually, his brigandry got the better of him and he ran to a monastery in an attempt to avoid the police. Once there, he was overcome by the love of Christ and begged to be received as a monk. It took him quite a while to adjust to life as a monk; once four robbers broke in and Moses beat their faces in before remembering himself. He then tied them up and took them to his abbot, sheepishly saying something like, “It used to be I woulda killed them, but I’m thinking that’s not how we do?” His monastic life was extremely difficult, as one might expect of a man accustomed to action and terrible sin, but he fought for years to overcome his temptations and ultimately became a priest and then an abbot himself, leading dozens of souls in the way of holiness. When another group of outlaws was approaching the monastery, Moses urged his men to flee, saying of himself, “Those who live by the sword must die by the sword.” He welcomed his murderers with open arms and was rewarded with a martyr’s crown. #BlackSaints #BlackHistoryMonth
Bl. Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa were teenage catechists martyred in Uganda in 1918. Daudi was born around 1902 and Jildo around 1906, both to pagan families, but they took to heart the preaching of the missionaries and were both baptized in 1916. Not long after, the catechist in a remote village died, leaving those villagers with nobody to instruct them in the faith. After some time, Daudi convinced the local priest that he and Jildo were ready to take on the role of catechist, and 18 months after being baptized, they were setting out alone to a village known to be unsafe. Shy Daudi took the lead in instruction while the more excitable Jildo led the children in games and songs. But there were those who saw Christianity as an imposition of the British Empire, and thus the two young men as tools of colonialism. Despite their youth and gentle natures, they were killed for their faith in October of 1918. #BlackSaints #BlackHistoryMonth
I’ll drop in every day to share an image of a different black Saint along with their story, in brief. If you just can’t wait, click through to this great site for an introduction to some of the Saints we’ll be getting to know later this month. So head on over to Instagram and let’s rejoice in the remarkable universality of our Catholic Church.