Maybe it’s because it’s Black History Month, or because we have just passed the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I’ve been really thinking about the amazing, beautiful diversity of the saints.
The Lack of Diversity
I’ve been hypersensitive recently to some of the old prayer books, old dolls, and even some recent Catholic products that show only white saints – even the ones who are from Africa, Latin or South America. It’s cringe worthy to me, sometimes, that in our past and even in our present, we have brushed over the global community of saints that comes from every culture, race, tongue, and nation. I was looking through a children’s book of saints recently where they showed most of the saints as Europeans or white people, and a website with some Catholic dolls where they refused to even make saints of different ethnicities (I know this isn’t intentional, but it just lacks!).
But, Mama Mary!
Now. on the other side of this thinking, I thought recently about how Our Lady has appeared to many cultures as a woman of their race, ethnicity, etc. So, when I see Mary depicted as a white woman, I pause for a moment in frustration because she was Jewish, but then I remember how many times she has appeared to humanity in our own settings. St. Bernadette recognized her as a person of her culture, but also in the apparitions at Guadalupe and Vietnam, it was probably the same for those who saw her.
So, back to the beautiful diversity of the saints! Let’s talk about just how diverse the communion of saints and the many saints around the world. I’ve picked just a few (because there are so many!) from different regions and groups around the world to highlight below.
Africa has a beautiful Catholic heritage with a ton of amazing saints. Let’s talk about St. Josephine Bakhita and Sts. Timothy and Maura. St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan and captured to be a slave when she was only 7 years old. She was passed from family to family, many of them being abusive, but eventually found herself with an Italian Catholic family. Soon after, she desired to become Catholic, and was baptized. She was later freed, became a sister and a saint! Get to know her better here.
Sts. Timothy and Maura were an Egyptian, married, holy couple who were denounced as Christians to the government. They were tortured (and I mean gruesome torture) and eventually hung on 2 crosses facing each other, where they remained for 10 days until they died as martyrs. Read more about them here.
There are some beautiful examples of sanctity from South America too. St. Martin de Porres, a mixed-race man who grew up extremely poor and eventually entered the Dominicans. He cared for the poor, the sick, orphans, and slaves, no matter what race or background. He also did the daily chores of the convent with great joy.
Blessed Francisco de Paula Victor was a Brazilian born son of slaves. He felt called to the priesthood, even though it was generally unacceptable for slaves to enter the priesthood. He faced discrimination and hardship with charity, and became a beloved priest and now almost-saint. Read about him here.
The movie, Silence, has raised our awareness a bit about the saints and marytrs in the Asian countries. St. Alphonsa and Blessed Peter Kibe are amazing examples of this beautiful diversity of the saints. St. Alphonsa was born in India in the early 20th century, and after an accident with her feet, was left disabled for the rest of her life. She joined the Poor Clares and became a teacher, but suffered from ill health. She died in 1946 and many continue to make pilgrimages to her grave. Read a bit more on her here.
Blessed Peter Kibe was born to Christian parents in Japan and desired to become a Jesuit priest in the 16th century. The superior didn’t think he was serious enough, so he spent 8 years working with Jesuit missionaries until he petitioned again. He was again denied the opportunity to become a priest. Instead of giving up, he walked 3,700 miles from India to the Holy Land, and eventually made his way to Rome where he was finally ordained a priest. It took him 24 years and a so much hardship to make it back to Japan, but he ministered for 9 years before being tortured and martyred. Read a great piece on him here.
Europe’s Catholicity is obviously well-known and there are a ton of saints to choose from in Europe in highlighting the diversity of the saints. Here are just two.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was an avid outdoorsman and devout young man in the beginning of the 20th century in Italy. He had a huge heart for the poor, sick, and orphans and he was a devoted member of Catholic Action and the Vincent de Paul Society. He had so many diverse interests and died very young. So many people attended his funeral. Get to know Bl. Pier Giorgio here.
St. Edith Stein was a very well-educated woman in Germany during the first World War and before the second. She had a doctorate in philosophy and although she grew up Jewish, she considered herself an atheist. After reading St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, she knew she had to join the Catholic Church. She later joined a Carmelite order, but because of her Jewish heritage, she was captured by the Nazis and martyred at Auschwitz. Get to know this amazing lady here.
Last, but not least, we can highlight some diverse North Americans who were saints. St. Kateri Tekawitha is the first Native American to be canonized. She lost her family from smallpox, but was greatly influenced by Catholic missionaries to her Mohawk tribe. She became a Catholic when she was 19 and took a vow of chastity and mortification, but died young at age 24. Read a bit more about St. Kateri here.
Blessed Solanus Casey was born in Wisconsin in the 1870s, being the son of Irish immigrants. He entered the Franciscan Seminary, but struggled in his studies. He joined the Capuchins and was ordained in 1904, but he was not allowed to preach or hear confessions because he had struggled so much in his studies and many believed he didn’t have enough theological knowledge. However, he did give inspirational talks and serve as a sacristan, and many came to seek advice and prayers for healing. Learn more about this American saint here.
Our Church is Beautiful
I am continually astounded at the beautiful diversity of the saints, and the diversity of the Church militant, here on earth. The Church has no racial, ethnic, or national boundaries. There are missionaries spreading the truth of the universal Church all over the world and we are continually encouraged by the saints, who come from every nation, ethnicity, race, and background. This is such a beautiful reality and something to celebrate.