Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saint Josephine Bakhita: Freedom and Hope

Born to the Daju people in Western Sudan around the year 1869, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped and sold into slavery when she was between the ages of seven and nine. Eventually purchased by an Italian consul, she was taken to Italy where she was converted to Catholicism through her contact with the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice. She rarely spoke of her years of enslavement, but her sufferings were so extreme that she was plagued by horrific nightmares for the rest of her life and the trauma caused her to forget the name she had received from her parents. (Her adopted name, Bakhita, means “Lucky.”) In 1893, having been baptized Giuseppina, she entered Cannosian Sisters, winning the esteem of many by her piety and charity.  She spent the remaining 54 years of her life serving the community and its students in a number of assignments, including cook, sacristan, and housekeeper. Known for her gentleness, especially her smile, she was commonly referred to as the “Little Brown Sister” or “Black Mother” by people in the local community.

A photograph of St. Josephine Bakhita
taken near the end of her life.

Josephine Bakhita died after an extended illness on February 8, 1947. Canonized in 2000, she is honored as the patron of Sudan and of enslaved peoples, as well as the victims and survivors of human traffickking. At her beatification in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1993, Blessed John Paul II proclaimed: “Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan, sold into slavery as a living piece of property, is free, free with the freedom of the saints.”

Despite her extreme suffeirngs, Josephine Bakhita expressed gratitude for her experiences, because it was through them that she ultimately encountered Christ and began to have hope. This was not an enslaved person’s hope of having a kind master, but, what Pope Benedict XVI has called, the “great hope” (see Spe Salvi, 3-4) She was able to declare, “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” The hope that was born in her redeemed her and gave her the discovery the true freedom that comes from Christ: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 12:28).

A Prayer in Honor of 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 Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from the Roman Missal)

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