February 7, 2017

Saint Josephine Bakhita, From Slave to Saint

Saint Josephine Bakhita
February 8th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita (1869–1947). For many years, Josephine was a slave, but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, at the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in Sudan's slave-markets.

Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged daily till she bled. As a result, she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by the Italian consul Callisto Legnani in Khartoum, Sudan.

Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Soon Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice's Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine.

When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian Sisters and the Patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine's behalf. The court subsequently found that since slavery was outlawed in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885.

Josephine entered the Institute of Saint Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters' school and the local citizens. She once said, "Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!"

Saint Josephine Bakhita died on February 8, 1947. She was beatified in 1992 by Saint John Paul II and canonized by the same on October 1, 2000. Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi extols her life as an outstanding example of Christian hope. She is the patron saint of Sudan. 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 ever steadfast in our charity and our compassion.

Adapted Excerpt from Saint of the Day, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

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