In celebration of Black Catholic History Month…
National Black Catholic History Month serves as a reminder of something we should keep in mind throughout the year: at its best, ours is a diverse and welcoming church, and there is much to be learned from one another, if only we would make the effort:
Moses the Black, sometimes called the Ethiopian, was a slave of a government official in Egypt who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. On one occasion, a barking dog prevented Moses from carrying out a robbery, so he swore vengeance on the owner. Weapons in his mouth, Moses swam the river toward the owner’s hut. The owner, again alerted, hid, and the frustrated Moses took some of his sheep to slaughter.
Attempting to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Scete, near Alexandria. The dedication of their lives, as well as their peace and contentment, influenced Moses deeply. He soon gave up his old way of life and joined the monastic community at Scete.
Moses had a difficult time adjusting to regular discipline. His flair for adventure remained with him. Once he was attacked by a group of robbers in his desert cell, Moses fought back, overpowered the intruders, and dragged them to the chapel where the monks were praying. He told the brothers that he did not think it was Christian to hurt the robbers and asked what he should do with them. The overwhelmed robbers repented, were converted, and themselves joined the community.
After some time, Moses became the spiritual leader of a colony of hermits in the desert. After a while had was ordained a priest. At about the age of 75, word came that a group of renegades planned to attack the colony. The brothers wanted to defend themselves, but Moses forbade it. He told them to retreat, rather than take up weapons. He and seven others remained behind and greeted the invaders with open arms, but all eight were martyred by the bandits.
Moses the Black is honored as an apostle of non-violence. Moses the Black lived a rather dissolute life in his younger years, had a conversion experience in which he heard and heeded the call of God, was a leader of a religious community and known as a man of peace spending much of his ministry calling people to reconciliation and forgiveness by word and example.