Saint of the Day – 4 April – St Benedict of Sicily O.F.M. (1526-1589) Religious Friar, Confessor, apostle of charity – also known as Benedict of Palermo, Benedict the Moor – born in 1526 at Messina, Italy on the estate of Chevalier de Lanza a San Fratello – died in 1589 of natural causes. His body was reported incorrupt when exhumed several years later. Patronages – African missions; African Americans; black missions; black people; Palermo; San Fratello; Sicily.
St Benedict was born of Moorish parents who were slaves on an estate near Messina, Sicily. Though of the lowest social rank, they possessed true nobility of heart and mind. As a baby Benedict was freed by his master and as a young boy he showed such a devout and gentle disposition that he was called the “holy Moor.”
While working in the fields one day some neighbours taunted him on account of his race and parentage. His meek demeanour greatly impressed a Franciscan hermit who was passing by and who uttered the prophetic words: “You ridicule a poor Moor now; before long you will hear great things of him.”
Wishing to join these hermits Benedict sold his meagre belongings and gave the proceeds to the poor and then entered the community. After the death of the superior, Benedict was chosen his successor, though greatly against his will. When Pope Pius IV ordered all hermits to disband or join some Order, Benedict became a Friar Minor of the Observance at Palermo and was made a cook. He was happy in this work since it enabled him to perform many little acts of kindness toward the others. His brethren were greatly edified by the saintly cook, especially when they saw angels at times helping him in his work. The Chapter of 1578 made him guardian, or superior, of the friary, though he protested that he was not a priest, in fact could neither read nor write. He was a model superior, however, and won the esteem and obedience as well as the love of his subjects.
As superior he gave free rein to his love for the poor and no matter how openhanded he was, the food never seemed to give out. After serving as superior he was made novice master and to this difficult post he brought gifts that were evidently infused: he was able to instruct with an amazing knowledge of theology and to read the hearts of others. Benedict corrected the friars with humility and charity. Once he corrected a novice and assigned him a penance only to learn that the novice was not the guilty party. Benedict immediately knelt down before the novice and asked his pardon.
In later life, Benedict was not possessive of the few things he used. He never referred to them as “mine,” but always called them “ours.” His gifts for prayer and the guidance of souls earned him throughout Sicily a reputation for holiness. Following the example of St Francis, Benedict kept seven 40-day fasts throughout the year; he also slept only a few hours each night.
At his request he was relieved of his office and again made cook but he was no longer an obscure Brother, for thousands flocked to the friary, seeking cures or alms or counsel and help.
He died after a brief illness, having foretold the hour of his death. After Benedict’s death, King Philip III of Spain paid for a special tomb for this holy friar. His veneration has spread throughout the world, and the African Americans of North America have chosen him their patron. He was Beatified on 15 May 1743 by Pope Benedict XIV and Canonised on 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VIII.