Why isn't there more Black saints or Black Popes

First of all this thread is not an accusation. This is your opportunity to use your apologetic skills on somebody that is sympathetic to the faith and is Catholic. I am merely seeking clarity on an important issue. I am a black man. I have come in to contact with people who perceive me as selling out black people by being a Catholic. At least I often find my self seeking excuses for why some one should not perceive me as an uncle tom praying to a “white Jesus”.

Lets suppose that a popular answer to this question would be that the Catholic Church is a racists institution. My being a Catholic, i don’t want to believe that. Plus the Catholic church has shown evidence that it has stood against racism and slavery. Also, I believe that the faith is fundamentally opposed to racism. Its core teachings appear to be favourable to the inclusion of other cultures.

However, this does not mean that there are no racist attitudes in the clergy or in places of higher authority in the church. I am hoping that my ignorance is the cause of my dismay. But while the Catholic laity is certainly populated with people of all cultures and colours, when you start moving up the hierarchy, the Church begins to appear largely dominated by European culture and white faces. Perhaps I am misreading things given that I live in the UK, but even when I look at the saints, they are largely depicted as white. I think I have only seen one depicted as black and that is saint Dominic (if I am not mistaken). The problem with this is that it gives the appearance that while the church is happy to have people of different cultures in its laity and priesthood, they are not too happy to promote too many black bishops, black saints, or black Popes. I have never heard of a black Pope.

I am certainly open to an explanation that does away with this appearance. For instance one idea that i have is that in the past, the catholic faith happened to thrive in European countries and cultures instead of eastern countries or in native Africa. But we no-longer live in a society that is spiritually segregated. There are many Black People who are loyal Catholics. So what’s happening?:confused::frowning:

I think it is largely because of time, Europe had have a long time of dominated by Christianity, thus there would be more white saints than black saints or Asian saints.

People look at this from an American perspective. The culture here is Protestant.The slaves were brought to this country by Protestants and they adopted their religion.
There are over 200 million Catholics in Africa. Millions in Asia. Millions in South America. The Catholic Church is universal comprising all cultures.
Some of the Popes may have been Black. Some were African.
Check out these photos from Deacon Alex Jones a former Black Pentecostal minister.


According to Catholic.org, there have been quite a number of Black saints: catholic.org/saints/black.php

Maybe not the ones we think of the most, but that doesn’t mean these Saints can’t be researched and prayed to like any other.

This doesn’t really deal with issues I have written about in the OP. I am well aware of the fact that the laity is well populated by black people and people of different cultures. The Church where I was baptised has only a few white people in it. The large majority of its members are black African or Jamaican, and two of its priests are black. This is a great achievement.

Wow. This is amazing.:thumbsup:. Its a shame that this great number isn’t more well known and promoted in popular Catholic art, literature, and mass in general. Why is that? Thanks for your contribution.:thumbsup:

If you look at churches as art and look at the statuary through the eyes of art in history you can see how most European and American churches will depict Christ and the saints as White. Art in history depicts concepts and ideals as the people who created the art saw their world.

As I sat in the pew at my local church it occurred to me how the figurines of the Stations of the Cross all appeared to be northern European. It maked it seem like Christ and the Roman centurions are all big Germanic people. Truth is Romans and Nazarenes do not all look like Ole and Arn Anderson :D.

And certainly, many Saints were not even “white” as they are depicted, St. Augustine, the Apostles, many Church fathers were probably what would be called North African, Arabic or even Asian. The church thrived in North Africa, Egypt, Arabia and Asia for 600 years while much of Europe was still pagan.

I have read that Africa is the future of the Catholic Church, and while Ireland was once the “priest factory” for the Church , no so much anymore, Africa is. We should look forward to the gift that Africa will provide for us all in the Hope of Christ.

This list above shows 948 different black Catholic Saints.

The article below list 701.

It also lists 3 popes from Africa? For some reason I didn’t think there had been a “black” Pope yet? (I got that impression from the news coverage of the most recent conclave? Maybe they were just focusing on “modern” Popes?)

Pope St. Victor I, Pope St. Militiades and Pope St. Gelasius I.

Do we “know” they were “black” or is the author just assuming so because they were from Africa? (Which seems a reasonable assumption BTW.)


Are protestants who attend predominantly black churches, or those led by black pastors, unaware that Jesus was in fact white (as in, Jewish)? Everyone who follows Christ prays to a white Jesus. This type of accusation is nonsensical.

That is correct-- the Catholic Church is universal. That is the meaning of the word catholic in Greek-- of the whole. As in-- the whole world. There is no more Jew, Greek, slave or free, etc.

This is quite a short-sighted view of Christianity. North Africa had many prominent churchmen in the early centuries, the onslaught of Islam killed Christianity on that continent for centuries. It is reasserting itself in the last several centuries.

Do the current bishops and cardinals from Africa not count in your eyes? There are few white high ranking officials on that continent.

I think the hierarchy reflects the Catholic populations in the countries where they are from.

That’s because they were white. England was mostly white until very recently. So of course various churches will be named after historical saints in England-- St. Thomas More, etc.

I think you need to broaden your view, there are many black saints and blesseds.

This simply isn’t true.

Not in modern times, but certainly in the early church there were. Remember, Europe was cut off from the east and Africa and at war with Islam for centuries.

But few (in Europe and the US) who go into the priesthood. So, of course they seem scarse. In Africa there are many vocations. We have many priests in our diocese who have come from Africa to minister here in the US because we do not have enough priests. The priest in our town is from Ghana.

With respect to the question of why there haven’t been many black popes, I think it’s important to bear in mind that, in addition to being head of the Universal Church, the pope is first and foremost the bishop of Rome. For that reason, the popes have been mostly Italian. It isn’t a question of race, but of residency.

It has disturbed me for awhile that saints, Mary, and Jesus are almost exclusively depicted as white. Jesus and His mother were Jewish and most certainly not blonde haired, blue eyed Europeans as they are usually depicted. There are many black saints but the problem is that they’re not featured prominently in churches. I really don’t have an explanation for this although I don’t think it’s conscious racism. In America the majority of Catholics are white/Hispanic, but I wonder how saints are depicted in Africa and Asia. Still white?

Good point. It’s unlikely the Church would send for Bishops in other countries to be Pope.

Are you aware that there are black Jews? And I would argue that Arabs and Jews are originally not different peoples. I would not assume that Jesus was white. Perhaps he was not Nubian, but I don’t believe that he was necessarily the colour of the present day pope; and the blue eye and blonde hair Jesus seems to me to be a fabrication of European culture. In any case, I would not have a problem if Jesus is white. It is a problem for some because racism is a very real reality, and it is important that the Church isn’t viewed as a factory for promoting white male domination. This is the reason I made this thread, so that the facts can be brought out in the open.

I warned everybody in the OP that I am not accusing the church, and I made it quite clear that perhaps I am ignorant on the matter. Can you at least grant me that, before accusing me of not counting people.:mad:

It is an interesting point. You do have to look at the history of the church (it was mainly in Europe) and the contry you live in (England, being mostly white). I live in America and there is probably a similar racial make-up.

Since most of the church’s major history was in Europe (for a long, long time!) it naturally follows that most of the saints, priests, and popes for the period will be white.

This might be similar for England’s history as well, though the particular makeup of your church may depend on the area you live in.

Also, why do you want there to be more black saints? Probably because they may be easier for you to relate to, or identify with, right? Of course, race doesn’t matter too much, as we are all one people can be inspired by anyone…still, naturally, someone who is more like us is easier to indentify with.

The same is true for white people, I’d think. Since the Catholic church historically has been mostly white (not out of racism, but our of pure geographic chance), depictions of the saints, Jesus, etc, will be mostly white. It’s what the people of the time knew and could relate to from like 200-1800 AD (when most of the art was created)…a long time! It’s also possible that it set up a kind of precedent for future works of art, who knows.

It’s true though that Africa is playing (and will play) a huuuge part in catholocism for the future. It’s growing fastest there for sure!

Actually, I might argue that the ones who are criticizing you for “Selling out” by adhering to a “white religion” are the ones that could possible be accused of racism? :slight_smile: I mean that in the nicest way.

I don’t think race matters. My 2 cents!

Francis Cardinal Arinze (my favorite Cardinal), was on the short list for Pope. Consider also that the rapid growth of African Catholicism is relatively recent on the history line. Third Day is absolutely right about Blacks and Catholicism in America. The Africans brought here as slaves had little exposure to Catholicism - and the Klan was (and is) anti-Catholic. So, protestantism was the safe choice, even if their faith communities were totally and forcefully segregated.

My Priest, from the Congo, as a child thought that Priests were white men from France or Belgium (French speakers). Now, he is the Priest. He was ordained 11 years ago and is assigned to a Parish in a nearly 100% European farming area. In our parish, he follows Priests from Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana. African (and Asian) vocations have become the salvation of the Church.

As to our Lord, He is neither white, nor black. He is exactly between us in color and He is where we meet. Depictions of Jesus and Mary tend to follow the culture in which they are portrayed. Just click through the examples on this site: mattstone.blogs.com/photos/asian_icons/japanese_mary_and_jesus.html

Christ’s peace be with you.

Why should it matter? Are we sticking to a stalinist ‘quota’ agenda?

As Catholics being racist is incompatible with what we believe.
Catechism of the Catholic Church**
‎1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex,** race**,** color**, social conditions, language, or religion *must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.*40

I wonder if anyone has statistics on:
*]total number of black Catholics in the world
*]total number of Catholics in the world (roughly 1B)
*]total number of black bishops
*]total number of bishops
[/LIST]I would be willing to bet they are porportional. As somone said earlier, the bishops and cardinals from Africa are predominantly black because the Catholic population in Africa is. The bishops in America and Europe are probably mostly white and those in South America are probably mostly hispanic, etc.

If you go to Mexico or South America, there are many statues of hispanic saints in their churches. In fact, Our Lady of Gaudalupe is a depiction of Mary as a hispanic. I’m sure Africa is the same way.

The art usually looks like the artist. Most of the well known art was done by Europeans.

Only 6.9% of African Americans were Catholic in 2003 vs. around 60% who were reported to be non-Catholic Christians. *

This is vs. ~22% of all Americans who are Catholic vs. 54% who are non-Catholic Christians.

So though blacks are slighlty more likely to be Christian in the United States they are ~3 times less likely to be Catholic.

I wonder why that is?

See statistics below:


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