When looking around a Catholic church or perusing holy cards at a gift shop it is easy to get the false impression that saints basically came in one shade of skin color: white. The stereotypical image of a saint is a white male or female with blond or grey hair color, born in a European country.
It gives one impression — the false impression — that the Catholic Church is made-up of white people and that saints are non-existent in any other culture.
Thankfully, sanctity is not restricted to one’s race, and the Catholic Church is much more colorful than one might imagine. In fact, there are countless saints of color in the Church who have been an inspiration to all people throughout the centuries.
Let us look at five holy men and women who help break down the stereotypes and whose intercession we should implore in a world where the racial prejudices continue to tear-apart our world.
Saint Moses the Black
An ascetic monk born in Ethiopia in 330 AD, Moses the Black is known as a “Desert Father” and is venerated in particular in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Moses started out as a leader of a gang and was notorious for violence and robbery. When attempting to seek vengeance on someone, he was thwarted in his action and ended up seeking shelter in a local monastery.
After witnessing the devout lives of the monks, Moses renounced his old way of violence, was baptized a Christian and joined the community. He dedicated the rest of his life to prayer as a leader of a group of hermits in the desert. However, his past did come in handy when a group of robbers tried to overpower him in his cell. Moses was able to fight back and dragged them to the chapel. The robbers were astounded by what happened, converted to the Christian faith and eventually joined the community of monks.
More to read: 3 Saints who witnessed violence
Saint Paul Miki and Companions
Saint Francis Xavier brought the Catholic faith to Japan in the sixteenth century and within a few decades hundreds of thousands of Japanese were baptized. This sudden influx of Christianity did not please the imperial authorities, who started to persecute the new Christians and sentenced to death three native Jesuits, six foreign Franciscans and many lay catechists, doctors and even children.
Saint Paul Miki is the most widely known of these Japanese martyrs. He was a native Jesuit who continued to preach to the people while he was nailed to a cross.
“The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Daughter of a Mohawk chief, Kateri Tekakwitha converted to Christianity through the kindness and generosity of French Jesuit missionaries. However, her life was one of much suffering and ridicule because of her Christian faith. Kateri was constantly ridiculed and her life was even threatened on account of her conversion. This forced her to flee the village two years after being baptized to a Christian settlement of natives in Canada.
With the support of fellow Christians, Kateri’s faith flourished and she was well known in the community for her joy and humor. She took seriously the Christian message, as one Jesuit missionary testified:
“To keep alive her devotion for the mystery of Our Savior’s Passion, and to have it always present to her mind, she carried on her breast a little crucifix which I had given her. She often kissed it with feelings of the most tender compassion for the suffering Jesus, and with the most vivid remembrance of the benefits of our redemption.”
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Saint Juan Diego
A native of Mexico, Juan Diego was a simple man who was chosen to receive the famous Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Not much it known about his early life and after seeing the Blessed Virgin he was allowed to live as a hermit next to the shrine dedicated to her honor.
Saint John Paul II praised him for his simplicity and his ability to strive for sanctity without abandoning his native identity.
“In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruit meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood which embraces all Mexicans. That is why the witness of his life must continue to be the inspiration for the building up of the Mexican nation, encouraging brotherhood among all its children and ever helping to reconcile Mexico with its origins, values and traditions” (Homily for the Canonization of Saint Juan Diego).
Saint Martin de Porres
The illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave, Saint Martin de Porres spent his life serving the poor and needy in Lima, Peru. Martin joined a local community of Dominicans at the age of 15, being assigned first as a servant boy. His duties increased over time and Martin was eventually admitted into the order. Unfortunately, his mixed descent brought ridicule from fellow Dominicans. It is said that when the monastery was in debt Martin told the superior, “I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me.”
This persecution from within did not deter Martin, as he continued to devote himself to prayer and service to others. He never ceased serving the poor and sick of the community, even giving up his own cell for a man who was in desperate need. The superior wasn’t happy about it, but Martin explained, “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” After that incident, he was allowed to do whatever was needed to serve others.