Saints of Color:

Canonized Saints of African Descent

St. Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire in the Upper Room while the disciples were hiding in fear.  He also alludes to the presence of Africans in the Upper Room at Pentecost in that Egyptians and Cyrenians heard the gospel in their own language (Acts 2).  He further tells us in Acts 8:39: Philip baptized an Ethiopian eunuch who becomes the first documented African convert.

Our experience of Pentecost is God breathing His Spirit in our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies.     We receive the Holy Spirit at different moments in our lives.   We all received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and again at Confirmation.  Our Blessed Mother received the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation, and again at Pentecost.  Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist received the Holy Spirit at the Visitation.   Acts 1:8 tells us:  “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”   Once Peter received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he became one of Christianity’s most powerful evangelists.  The Acts of the Apostles also tell us that Saul, the chief persecutor of the Christians, was converted on the Road to Damascus.   Peter and Paul’s followers began to travel across the known world to bring the Gospel to the nations.  Philip traveled to Carthage before heading east into Asia Minor.  Matthew and Bartholomew traveled to Ethiopia and modern-day Iran.

St. Mark traveled to Egypt around the year 42 and established the Church of Alexandria around 49.  By the end of the second century, the Catholic Church would have the first of three North African popes, Pope Victor I.  He is credited for having Easter on Sunday and making Latin the official language of the Church.  That time period also gave us the first group of African martyrs. They were 12 Christian men and women, who were killed by the sword in 180 for refusing to call the Roman emperor their god in modern-day Algeria and Tunisia.   They are called the “Scillitan Martyrs” and their feast day is July 17.  More well-known Sts. Perpetua and Felicity in 203 were tortured and killed for the faith in Carthage (present-day Tunisia) and their feast day is on March 7th.

St. Clement of Alexandria founded The Catechetical School of Alexandria for Bible study in the late second century.   Church Father Origen, who was also from Alexandria, was the first theologian to develop Christian doctrine and compiled a comparison of six translations of the Old Testament.  Tertullian from Carthage is the first Catholic author to write in Latin and to use the word “trinity”.  St. Jerome documented that Tertullian, who was ordained as a priest, became known as the “Father of Western Theology’”    St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote of the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the Pope.   St. Augustine of Hippo, who was born in what is modern-day Algeria, is considered the most influential scholar and philosopher of this time.   North African Church Councils, St. Athanasius, helped the early Church determine the books of the Bible we know today.     History reveals that the North African influence in the early church could have been the conduit of conversion in Europe.

Here is a list of some canonized saints of African descent: St. Perpetua, St. Felicity, St. Cyprian of Carthage, Father of the African Church, St. Zeno, St. Anthony of Egypt, St Moses the Black, St. Pachomius, St. Maurice, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Mary of Egypt (was a prostitute for 17 years before she received the Eucharist and chose to live the remainder of her life as a hermit), St. Cyril of Alexandria (Doctor of the Church), St. Monica, her son St. Augustine, St. Thecla, St. Benedict the Moor, St. George of Damascus, St. Isidora of Tabenna, St. Isidore of Skete, St. Macarius, St. Onuphrius, St. Paisius, St. Pambo, St. Patapius, St. Sisoes,  St. Thaisia, St. Theodora of Alexandria, St. Martin de Porres (the only black saint from the Western hemisphere), St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, and St. Josephine Bakhita.