SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA (1869-1947), virgin and religious – Patron saint of Sudan
Today, the Church honors the life of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who experienced being kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child in Sudan, but was eventually led to freedom, embracing life as a Canossian Sister and a bride of Christ.
Born in 1869 in the village of Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, a country on the southern border of Egypt, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means “fortunate” in Arabic.
She had recounted that, due to the fright and the terrible experiences she endured as a child, which included beatings, branding and cutting, she could no longer remember the name she was given by her parents. During her youth, she was sold and re-sold several times, experiencing the humiliations and sufferings of slavery, both physical and emotional.
In 1883, she was sold to Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan. For the first time since the day she was kidnapped, she realized with pleasant surprise that no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated in a loving and cordial way. In the consul’s residence, Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled by nostalgia (an emotional longing) for her own family, whom she felt she had lost forever.
Political situations in Sudan forced the consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and became a nanny for his colleague, Augusto Michieli. He, in turn, sent Bakhita to accompany his daughter to a school in Venice run by the Canossian Sisters.
Bakhita felt called to learn more about the Church, and was baptized in 1890 with the name “Josephine Margaret.” In the meantime, Augusto wanted to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, but Josephine refused to return.
The disagreement escalated and was taken to the Italian courts, where it was ruled that Josephine could stay in Italy because she was a free woman. Slavery was not recognized in Italy, and it had also been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine had been born.
Josephine remained in Italy and decided to give herself to our Lord in the Institute of Saint Magdalene of Canossa. She made her profession of vows in 1896 and, in 1902, was sent to the convent in Schio in Northern Italy, where she dedicated her life to assisting her community and teaching others to love God. For over 50 years as a Canossian Sister, this humble daughter of charity became a true witness of God’s Infinite Love to all those she encountered through her smile, gentleness and holiness.
As she lay dying from natural causes at the age of seventy-seven, she mentally re-lived the terrible days of her slavery, and more then once she begged the nurse who assisted her, “Please, loosen the chains; they are heavy!” Eye witnesses recount how it was the Blessed Mother Mary who freed her from all pain. Her last words were, “Our Lady! Our Lady!”, and her final smile testified to her encounter with the Mother of the Lord.
Sister Josephine breathed her last on February 8, 1947, at the Canossian Convent in Schio, surrounded by her community of religious sisters. A crowd quickly gathered at the Convent to have a last look at their “Mother Moretta” (our Black Mother), and to ask for her protection through her prayers as one of God’s special daughters in Heaven. Since her death, the fame of her sanctity has spread to every continent and many have received special graces through her intercession.
Josephine Margaret Bakhita was canonized a saint on October 1, 2000, by Pope St. John Paul II at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.
We commemorate her feastday on February 8.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, catholicculture.org and vatican.va/news)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Missal from the Proper for Saint Josephine Bakhita)
“O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being Your daughter and a bride of Christ, grant, we pray, that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion.
“Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”