Prominent Black Saints

Baljot Rai ’24

February is Black History Month, a time to be aware of societal and cultural contributions of the Black community. It’s a time which calls us to gain knowledge, fight for justice, and address racism.

The Black community is a vital part of the Church’s development, especially with Black saints. The history of Black saints goes back to 33 AD, outside the city of Jerusalem.

Gospel accounts indicate that there were men present at Jesus’s crucifixion who helped him carry the cross on the Road to Calvary. One of these men was Simon of Cyrene (present day Libya), who later became St. Simon of Cyrene. Mentioned in three of the four Gospels, St. Simon’s act is the fifth station of the cross, a prominent devotion for Catholics. St. Simon is now the patron saint of the passerby.

Born in Egypt, around 250 years after Jesus Christ, St. Maurice is also a notable Black saint. St. Maurice was a soldier in the Roman army who eventually became the leader of Theban Legion, which consisted of nearly a thousand Christian men. When assigned to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and to pay homage to the emperor, St. Maurice stated that service to God superseded all else. Shortly later, St. Maurice and the Theban Legion were ordered to harass local Christians by the emperor Maximian. Refusing to harass the innocent, St. Maurice and his legion courageously defended their beliefs against the tyrannical emperor. He and his legion became martyrs, after they were beheaded by Maximian’s troops. Today, St. Maurice is the patron saint of France, Switzerland, soldiers, swordsmiths, armies, and infantrymen.

A more recently canonized Black Saint is St. Josephine Margaret Bakhita, patron saint of Sudan and human-trafficking survivors. Kidnapped at the age of 8 by slave traders, St. Josephine was sold as a slave over a dozen times and was a victim of forced labour and physical abuse. In 1883, she was bought as a slave by Italy’s Vice Consul. With him, she emigrated to Italy and was accepted into his family. At a time, when the family departed for a business trip, St. Josephine was left in the custody of the Canossian Sisters of Venice, by whom she was greatly influenced, and felt a call to serve Christ. She chose to join the order and converted to Christianity in 1890. Baptized by Giusseppe Sarto, who would later become Pope Pius X, she lived the rest of her life peacefully at the convent. She was regarded as a merciful and charismatic womn, thankful for learning about Jesus Christ. St. Josephine’s story calls on us to search for God through all experiences, whether good or bad.

There are also many other saints and blessed Black people who were essential to the develop- ment of the Church, including St. Martin de Porres, and St. Peter Claver. There are also Black holy men and women who have been beatified, and their causes are in the canonization process. May we be inspired by these holy men and women and learn to live a life of service and charity.

Photo Credit: St. Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission

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