St. Josephine Bakhita  1868? – 1947

A young girl of about 8 years old was kidnapped from near her village in Darfur, Sudan in 1876 by 2 armed men. They took her off and sold her into slavery. Her name was taken from her and the slave-name of “Lucky” (Bakhita) given in its stead. After weeks of being forced to walk across the Sudan with other slaves she was sold to a rich Sudanese family. Eventually, after severe physical abuse from the son of the family, she was sold on to an Egyptian general (the Egyptian army was occupying Sudan at that time). More severe beatings and abuse.  In 1881 the Mahdist rebellion began in Sudan and the general decided to flee back to Egypt. He sold his slaves before he left. Bakhita was sold to an Italian merchant who was also the Italian Consul in Khartoum. He treated her well for a slave then when the Mahdist forces approached Khartoum in 1884, he got out taking Bakhita with him (at her request) back to Italy. In Italy the merchant’s wife took Bakhita as a slave/nursemaid for her little daughter in Mirano, near Venice.

Some time later, when things were quieter in the Sudan, Bakhita’s owner decided to take his family back there to continue his business. Selling the house in Mirano proved complicated and the trip had to be postponed for some time. Meanwhile a friend of the family who was a Catholic (the master and his family were non-practising) suggested Bakhita should be sent to stay with the Canossian Sisters at the Catechumenate in Venice (a centre where adults wishing to become Catholics could receive instruction) together with the little daughter of the family until it was time to return to the Sudan. But after a year, when it was time to go, Bakhita refused to leave. The family were furious, the Canossian Sisters embarrassed and the Patriarch of Venice asked the Italian Government for guidance. The Government declared that since there was no slavery in Italy, Bakhita was free.

  It was a terrible wrench for Bakhita when the family left for Sudan since she was sincerely attached to them. In 1890 she was Baptised, then confirmed and received Holy Communion and stayed a further 3 years in the Catechumenate, by which time she saw that God was calling her to be a Sister. She was accepted and professed in 1896. Six years later she was transferred to the convent of Schio.

Her life became one of joyful service. Now as a free woman she freely served her sisters in the kitchen, then the wounded in World War 1 when the convent became a field hospital, then later as a confidante and advisor for many people who called at the convent for her advice and prayers.

In 1930, the Sisters needed money for their overseas missions and asked Bakhita to travel around with another sister who told Bakhita’s story and begged for money. People were very moved by the story and the most frequent expression was, “Oh, poor thing!” Bakhita became exasperated as an object of pity, explain that she was not a “poor thing” because she belonged to her Master and was in his house. The poor things were those who didn’t know Our Lord. She came to be grateful to those who had enslaved and ill-treated her because they were all part of her journey and without them she “would not have become a Christian and be a Sister today”.

After a long illness, she died peacefully on 8th February 1947 (101 years ago today) and today is her feast day, a day set aside by the Church as a day of prayer for the victims of human trafficking.

As a true child of God, she became free and chose to serve.

Please pray today for all enslaved people that they may be freed from their physical, emotional and psychological chains, in particular those from Africa.