St Josephine Bakhita - Saint for the Month - February

 

St Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in Darfur (western Sudan). Between the age of 7-9, she was kidnapped and sold as a slave to a rich Arab who used her as a maid for his two daughters. 

Her fourth owner was a Turkish general, and she had to serve his mother-in-law and his wife, who were cruel to their slaves. Here she was permanently scarred with 114 intricate patterns cut into her breasts, belly and into her right arm. 

In 1883 Bakhita was bought to Khartoum by the Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani, who treated her kindly. Two years later, when Legnani had to return to Italy, Bakhita begged to go with him. In Italy Legnani gave ownership of Bakhita to Turina Michieli. She became nanny to the Michieli's daughter Alice, known as Mimmina.

By the end of 1888, Signora Turina Michieli went to Sudan leaving Bakhita and Mimmina in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There, cared for and instructed by the Sisters, Bakhita encountered Christianity for the first time. 

When Mrs. Michieli returned to take her daughter and maid back, Bakhita refused to leave. On 9 January 1890 Bakhita was baptized with the names of Josephine Margaret. In 1893 Josephine Bakhita entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and on 8 December 1896 she took her vows. 

Between 1935 and 1939, when she stayed at the Missionary Novitiate in Milan she visited other Canossian communities in Italy, talking about her experiences and helping to prepare young sisters for work in Africa.  A strong missionary drive animated her throughout her entire life - "her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa".

Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile became well known and Vicenzans still refer to her as Sor Moretta (little brown sister) or Madre Moretta (black mother). Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity were noticed by her order. 

Bakhita died on 8 February 1947. On 1 October 2000, she was canonised as Saint Josephine Bakhita. She is venerated as a modern African saint, and as a statement against the brutal history of slavery. She has been adopted as the patron saint of Sudan and human trafficking survivors.

Bakhita's legacy is that transformation is possible through suffering. Her story of deliverance from physical slavery also symbolises all those who find meaning and inspiration in her life for their own deliverance from spiritual slavery.