Why these saints matter

Why these saints matter

The following is excerpted from our new book 16 Black Saints and Advocates for Social Justice by Marie Paul Curley, FSP, Mary Lea Hill, FSP, Allison Gliot, FSP, Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP, and edited by Mary Leonora Wilson, FSP.

In proposing saints as our models of life, the Church wants to encourage us to follow their example of virtue in order to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is our primary model, the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all of us. But in the saints the Church gives us examples of people like us, ordinary men and women who lived what Jesus taught, even to the point of heroic sacrifices.

The saints come from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They are found in every age of history and from places all over the world. Why a book on Black saints? The saints in this volume were selected because they represent the unique and special contribution of people of color. Since the sin of racism is unfortunately still alive, it is important for us as Catholics to honor and celebrate those saints who often faced obstacles and hatred because of the color of their skin. Their love for Jesus overcame all of those obstacles and can greatly move us as we struggle in our own lives.

One way of overcoming racism is to learn about and recognize the tremendous contributions that people of color have made throughout history. Holiness is the greatest good and our ultimate goal. Simply through their holiness they have forever enriched us.

But even beyond that, they have also made substantial contributions in other ways. The great Saint Augustine of Hippo, for example, is one of the most remarkable thinkers in the Church. His contributions to philosophy and theology are unparalleled and have never ceased to awaken interest and further study. His mother, Saint Monica, was the spiritual force behind his conversion. Her prayers and tears for him shed for over twenty years bore fruit in bringing him to faith in Christ. 

Other saints noted here gave brave witness in shedding their blood for Christ, thus winning the crown of martyrdom, such as the heroic Charles Lwanga and his companions. By the generous gift of their lives they helped to deeply root the 
Gospel in their countries and bring many others to faith. Some of them, such as Saint Josephine Bakhita, overcame tremendous obstacles, including slavery, to dedicate their lives to Christ. These saints came from all walks of life. Some were members of religious orders, such as Saint Martin de Porres and Saint Benedict the Moor. Others were married, such as Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Victoria Rasoamanarivo.

Two of the saints selected, Peter Claver and Katharine Drexel, were Caucasian. But they dedicated their whole lives to work- ing for people of color, which is why they are included here. Their example of love for neighbor can inspire us to act in the same manner toward all of our brothers and sisters today. Their work for social justice helped to bring attention to the plight of those whose human dignity was not being respected. Claver called himself “the slave of the slaves.” He not only did what he could to help alleviate their suffering, but reproached the wealthy landowners who exploited them. While everyone regardless of their color has to be willing to fight against racial injustice, Saints Peter Claver and Katharine Drexel made it the focus of their life’s work. 

What has the wonderful witness of holiness by all these saints added to our Church? Saint Martin de Porres, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Servant of God Thea Bowman and the others in this volume have all enriched the fabric of our Catholic 
life of faith. It is our prayer that this book will help in some way to promote greater racial harmony in our society and our Church today. 





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