Josephine Bakhita, Patroness against Human Trafficking Feast Day: February 8
In February, the Core Virtues program spotlights justice, and there is no greater affront to justice than enslavement of our fellow human beings. St. Josephine Bakhita understood that well. Born in Sudan, she was sold into slavery in 1876 at age seven. (Slavery in many parts of the world did not end with the American Civil War.) Abducted by Arab slave traders, she was forced to walk about 600 miles barefoot to eastern Sudan, and was bought and sold twice in the process. She endured horrific beatings, ritual scarrings, and four different owners in Sudan before being bought by an Italian vice consul in 1883, who took her to serve his family in Italy near Venice. There her physical abuse ceased, though Bakhita was still enslaved. And there she first saw a crucifix, and understood in her heart of hearts that this Jesus understood her suffering. In 1888 the family chose to return to Sudan briefly, and left Bakhita in the care of the Canossian sisters. In the convent she came to fully understand the Catholic faith and sought Baptism. Indeed, she wished to become a sister. When the family returned, they instructed her to pack her bags and return to their service, but Bakhita refused. The sisters supported her in her desire to stay, and an Italian court upheld her freedom, ruling that Italian law had never recognized slavery. In 1890 she was baptized with the names Josephine Margaret Fortunata (translated as Bakhita in Arabic), and by 1896 she was received into the convent of the Canossian Sisters. "Those holy mothers instructed me with heroic patience and introduced me to that God who from childhood I had felt in my heart without knowing who He was." A patroness against human trafficking and all forms of social injustice, Josephine Bakhita refused to be defined by her time in slavery. She serves as a model of forgiveness, insisting that if she ever were to meet her captors again, "I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that had not happened, I would not be a Christian and a religious today." As Meg Kilmer notes, she "wasn't justifying their heinous crime. She was declaring that she had been set free, not just from slavery, but from trauma and anguish and rage...by the One who knew what it was to suffer. Through his grace, Bakhita knew she was so much more than what had been done to her. She was loved."
Saint Bakhita of Sudan: Forever Free. Susan Helen Wallace. Illustrated by Wayne Alfano. Pauline Books & Media, 2006. (3-6) This slim chapter book for older children tells the story of St. Josephine Bakhita's capture into slavery, journey to Italy to work as a nanny, and life as a Canossian sister in Venice. Beginning with a sad and difficult time in the saint's life, this book tells the story of her journey to show how God can bring good out of evil.
Image used with permission from Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey