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Benedict the Moor, St.


Franciscan lay brother, patron of blacks of North America; b. San Fratello, near Messina, Italy, 1526; d. Palermo, Italy, April 4. He was the son of Christopher and Diana Manasseri, slaves converted to Christianity after they had been brought to Sicily from Africa. As a field hand, he was given his liberty when he attained the age of 18, and thereafter he earned his living as a day laborer. He generously shared his small wages with the poor and spent much of his leisure time caring for the sick. Among the beneficiaries of his charity he became known as "The Holy Negro." But there is also evidence that he was often the object of ridicule because of his race and origin. While still a young man he joined a company of hermits who lived in the hills near San Fratello under the direction of Jerome Lanza, a nobleman who had forsaken the world for the solitary life. When Jerome died, his followers chose Benedict as their new superior, and under his leadership the group prospered. When in 1562 Pope Pius IV ordered independent groups of hermits to be incorporated into the established religious orders, Benedict chose to enter the Order of Friars Minor of the Observance as a lay brother. For some years after his reception into the order, he was employed as cook at the Friary of St. Mary of Jesus in Palermo. Although he could neither read nor write, he was chosen in 1578 as guardian of the Palermo friary. After serving one term in this office, he was appointed master of novices. An austere man, he was granted extraordinary gifts of prayer; his counsel was sought by persons of every class; and the fame of his sanctity spread throughout Sicily. Toward the end of his life he asked to be relieved of all offices in the order and he resumed his duties as cook. At the age of 63 he contracted a severe illness, and after receiving the Last Rites with intense fervor, he died at the exact hour he had predicted. He was buried in the friary church in Palermo. In 1611 King Philip III of Spain provided in the same

church a new shrine to which the saint's incorrupt remains were transferred and where they are still venerated by the faithful. Immediately upon Benedict's death, a vigorous cult developed. His veneration became especially popular in Italy, Spain, and Latin America; and the city of Palermo chose him as its heavenly protector. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807.

Feast: April 4; April 3 (Franciscans).

Bibliography: "Bulla canonizationis beati Benedicti a S. Philadelphio laici professi Ord. minorum," Acta Ordinis Fratrum Minorum 26 (1907) 214222. m. allibert, Life of St. Benedict the Moor (London 1895). g. carletti, Life of St. Benedict, tr. m. allibert (Freeport, N.Y. 1971). e. elton, São Benedito (Vitória-ES, Brazil 1988). leon de clary, Lives of the Saints and Blessed of the Three Orders of St. Francis, 4 v. (Taunton, Eng. 188587) 2:1431. Three Studies in Simplicity, tr. m. carroll of pol de leon albaret Sainte Benedict l'Africain (Chicago 1974). b. nicolosi, Vita di San Benedetto di San Fratello (Palermo 1907).

[c. lynch]

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