On April 3, the Franciscan family honors the memory of St. Benedict the Black or Benedict the African (1526-1589). He was referred to in Italian as “il Moro” (dark-skinned), and this was often translated into English as “the Moor.”

Benedict was born at San Fratello, a small town near Palermo, Sicily, to an African slave couple. Due to their good service, their son was declared free at birth. Benedict became a hard- working shepherd, devoted to prayer; he never went to school due to his poverty and remained illiterate all his life. When he was 21, a nobleman witnessed his patient attitude when insulted because of his race, and invited him to come with him and form an independent group of lay Franciscan hermits; there Benedict became the cook, and eventually became head of the group.

In 1564, Pope Pius V ordered groups of lay hermits to join an established religious order, and so Benedict entered the Friars Minor in Palermo, where he became the cook.  He became highly regarded in the community for his dedication to the Franciscan Rule and spiritual insight, and was asked to become the master of novices, despite his illiteracy. He was eventually chosen guardian of the community. When his term was over, however, he happily returned to his work in the kitchen. He gained a reputation in Palermo as a spiritual guide and healer, and died there April 4, 1589. Benedict was beatified in 1743 and canonized in 1807. He is a patron of Palermo; devotion to him spread among Africans in the Caribbean and Brazil; he was also declared a patron of African-Americans in the United States, along with St. Peter Claver.

“I admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ that they beware of all pride, vainglory, envy, avarice, cares and worries of this world, detraction and complaint. And those who are illiterate should not be eager to learn. Instead, let them pursue what they must desire above all things: to have the Spirit of the Lord and his holy manner of working, to pray to him always with a pure heart and to have humility and patience in persecution and weakness. . . “

St Francis, Rule of the Friars Minor (1223), 10.7-9.

Cloister of Santa Maria Palermo

Cloister of friary in Palermo where Benedict spent his life as a friar

As we approach the days of Passion of Christ, let us remember Franciscan Sister Maria Restituta Kafka, sentenced to death by a Nazi Court, March 30, 1943. She wrote from prison: "It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way we build an altar in our own hearts." Read More

On March 2, the Franciscan family and the people of the Czech Republic honor the memory of St. Agnes of Bohemia (Agnes of Prague). Born in 1211, she was the daughter of Ottokar II, King of Bohemia. Her mother was a Hungarian princess, and so Agnes was a first cousin of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. As a princess, it seemed that Agnes' life would be programmed for her to marry a foreign monarch for the benefit of her country; however, after two attempts to arrange such a marriage failed, Agnes refused to be a political pawn any longer but to follow her own path in life. Franciscan friars came to Prague in 1232, and Agnes was soon attracted to their preaching and values. Supported by her brother, King Wenceslaus, she built a church and friary, and then a hospital that she endowed with her dowry. She also invited Poor Clare sisters from Italy to establish a monastery in Prague, which she herself entered in 1234.

On March 20, the Church celebrates the solemnity of St.  Joseph, transferred because his usual feast day (March 19) fell on Sunday this year.  We’d just like to draw your attention to the important role that the Franciscan family played in popularizing devotion to Joseph. Here we Franciscans played a large part in the renewed focus on the humanity of Jesus that spread in the Middle Ages. As people followed Francis’s example at Greccio and contemplated the scene of Jesus’s humble birth, they began giving more attention to this silent figure who played such an important role in the life of Jesus.

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