In the year 439, the city of Carthage was taken over by barbarian armies called the Vandals. They arrested the bishop and priests and put them on a large, old wooden raft and set it adrift at sea. By some miracle they reached the port of Naples and were saved. But Carthage was left without a bishop for fourteen years.
Emperor Valentinian in Rome asked Genseric, the leader of the Vandals, to allow another bishop to be appointed for Carthage. Genseric agreed and a young priest of that city was chosen. He was respected by the conquerors and loved by the Christians.
His name in Latin was "Deogratias," which, in English, means "thanks be to God." Bishop Deogratias worked hard, teaching his people the faith and looking after their well-being.
Then Genseric attacked Rome. He returned to Africa with hundreds of slaves - men, women and children. Whole families were kidnapped and divided up among the Vandals and Moors. Genseric cruelly sold family members individually and separated from their loved ones.
Bishop Deogratias heard about the tragedy. When the slave ships docked at Carthage, he bought back as many slaves as he could. He raised the money by selling the gold and silver church vessels, works of art, vestments (rich robes) and ornaments.
He tried especially to buy and keep together whole families and was able to free many slaves. He found living quarters for them. When the houses were filled up, he used two of his largest churches, Basilica Fausti and Basilica Novarum and turned them into dormitories and hospitals.
He bought bedding and other necessary items so that these refugees would feel at home in their new surroundings. When his duties gave him the time, he worked in the sick wards.
The Vandals tried many times to kill him but could not. Bishop Deogratias died in his own bed after only three years as Carthage's bishop. He was totally worn out from his life of self-sacrifice and loving service. The people he helped would never forget him. He died in 457.
After the death of Bishop Deogratias, the Vandals refused to let Carthage have a bishop for another twenty-three years.
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