Josephine Bakhita

Josephine Bakhita

Circa 1869 in Darfur (now Western Sudan) in a village called Olgossa, a little girl was born. The niece of the village chief, she lived a happy, carefree life. "I did not know what suffering was," she said. That life ended at the age of about seven when the girl was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. The little girl was then forced to walk barefoot 600 miles to El Obeid. She was bought and sold twice on her way there. She would be bought and sold three times over the course of the next twelve years before being given away. Having forgotten her real name due to the trauma of the events surrounding her enslavement, she was given another name: Bakhita, meaning "fortunate". 


Bakhita would not seem fortunate to many. While living as a slave for a rich Arab man, she was treated kindly for a while, before being beat so badly that she was incapable of moving for a month, simply for breaking a vase. Her fourth owner, a Turkish General, had her serve his wife and his mother, who would beat her daily. "During all the years I stayed in that house, I do not recall a day that passed without some wound or other. When a wound from the whip began to heal, other blows would pour down on me," Bakhita writes in her autobiography. While there, Bakhita suffered mutilation in the form of having patterns cut into her skin with a blade and filled with salt, insuring permanent scarring. In 1883, Bakhita was bought by the Italian Vice Consul, who transferred ownership of Bakhita to his wife upon return to Italy. There, she cared for the daughter of her owners. Her owners then decided in 1888 to move permanently to Sudan, leaving Bakhita and their daughter with the Canossian Sisters during the moving process. 


It was here that Bakhita, forced to be Muslim by her previous owners, encountered God. "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," she said. When the time came for her and her owner's daughter to leave, Bakhita said no. The case was brought to court, turning an unexpected result: Bakhita had never legally been a slave and was therefore, for the first time since being seven years old, free to choose her own destiny. Bakhita was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata, receiving the sacraments of initiation from the man who would soon become Pope Pius X. She became a Canossian sister and was sent to a convent in Schio, Vicenza. There she lived joyfully for the remainder of her life, earning the love and respect of her community. She became known for her smile and charismatic nature. Bakhita was confined to a wheelchair towards the end of her life, but despite her pain, she remained joyful. Her final words were "Our Lady! Our Lady!".


When she was beatified in 1992, the Sudanese government tried to censor the news. However, nine months later, John Paul II visited Sudan personally, saying "Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise and yet still free. Free with the freedom of the saints." Bakhita was canonized in 2000. She's the patron saint of Sudan and human trafficking survivors. When asked what she would do should she encounter her captors, she replied: "if I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today".



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