Popes, Saints, Archbishops, and Nuns

Has there ever been a black pope?

About 186, Saint Victor I was the first pope identified as an African, although his racial identity is not clearly established. What was rare then, and now, is that he was a deacon when he became pope. It was Saint Victor who established a set date for the annual celebration of Easter. He reigned until c. 197 and died in 199, a martyr for the faith. He was buried on Vatican Hill near St. Peter’s tomb. Two other early popes, who, like Saint Victor I, became saints, are also of African origin—Saint Miltiades (311–314) and Saint Gelasius I (492–496). Saint Miltiades ended persecutions by signing the emperor Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan in 313. Christianity then became the empire’s established and legal religion. Highly regarded as pope, according to Saint Augustine, Saint Miltiades was called “a son of peace and father of Christians.” He was the last pope to be buried in a catacomb. Saint Gelasius I was born in Rome and became well known for holiness, kindness, and scholarship. Although he upheld old traditions, he also made exceptions and modifications, including “his decree obliging the reception of the Holy Eucharist under both kinds.” He is credited with saving Rome from famine, and he was recognized also for his concern for the poor. He composed a book of hymns for use in the church and also clarified the church’s teaching on the Eucharist. He was ranked high as a writer. Many of his decrees were incorporated into the Canon Law.


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