Tag Archives: Sudan

February 8: St. Josephine Bakhita

An heroic African woman from the Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped by slave traders when she was 9 years old and forced into slavery for almost 12 years. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of her in his encyclical letter “On Hope” as an example of God’s gift of hope. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope.”

“I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person.

She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.
What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people.

The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

Benedict XVI “Spes salvi” 2007

Josephine Bakhita died February 8, 1947 and was declared a saint in 2000.She is the patron saint of the Sudan and victims of human trafficking. For more on her, see here.

Let’s Look at the Saints

This morning, the last day of our mission here at St. Charles Borromeo, the school children were at the 8.30 Mass and participated beautifully in the liturgy. I spoke about St. Josephine Bakhita who was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a 7 year old girl in the Sudan, in Africa, around the year 1876.

She worked around the kitchen, cleaned the house and took care of the younger children of her African slave owners. Later, she was bought from them by a European family living in Africa then, and did the same things for them.

The family moved to Italy and brought Bakhita with them. One of her tasks was to take a younger child of the family to a Catholic school, where he became acquainted with the Daughters of Charity, the religious women who taught there.

When the family decided to return to Africa, Bakhita refused to go. The sisters and others made her aware that she didn’t belong to that family. She was a daughter of God who had rights of her own. In fact, Italian law forbade slavery.

Bakhita was freed and took the name Josephine. She was so impressed with the sisters that she joined their community.  She died in Italy in 1947 and was canonized a saint in 2000.

I told the children and others there at Mass that our church upholds human rights. We want all people to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Jesus came that people should be free.

Wonderful story to tell children. There should be no slaves in our world. Our church has been given a mission by Jesus: that all have rights to be free, to have a place to live, a family, food, medical care.

St. Josephine lived a holy life till she died. St. Josephine pray for us and help all those who are enslaved. Help us work for human rights.