St. Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of the Sudan, human trafficking survivors and of our foundation. Her feast day is February 8th.
She was born in 1869, in a small village in Darfur, region of Sudan. She was a member of the Daju people and her uncle was a tribal chief. Due to her family lineage, she grew up happy and relatively prosperous, saying that as a child, she did not know suffering. While still a young girl around 7 years old, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Her captors asked for her name but in her fear, and as a result of the trauma, she was unable to remember. Mocking her, they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate”.
During her time of captivity she was tortured by her various owners. She suffered brandings and beatings on many occasions. Once her owners cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to make sure that the scars remained.
During these early years of her life, she did not know Christ but she did believe in a Creator and had great awe and wonder for His creation.
Eventually, after exchanging hands five or six times, St. Bakhita found herself serving as a caretaker for a young girl at a school in Venice run by Canossian Sisters. Bakhita was very intrigued by the Catholic faith . She learned many things from the sisters and was eventually baptized by the name “Josephine Margaret”.
Against the will of her owner, who wanted to take her back to Africa, she went before the Italian courts seeking her freedom. The courts declared that Bakhita was a free woman because slavery had been outlawed in both Italy and the Sudan and they allowed her to stay in Italy.
St. Bakhita was attracted to the religious life and entered the Canossian Sisters where she remained for about forty five years. She lived out the rest of her days serving God and her community and teaching others to love Him with great faithfulness.
“If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”- St. Bakhita.
Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair but she retained her cheerfulness, and if asked how she was, she would always smile and answer: “As the Master desires.” In the extremity of her last hours her mind was driven back to the years of her slavery and she cried out: “The chains are too tight, loosen them a little, please!” After a while she came round again. Someone asked her, “How are you? Today is Saturday,” probably hoping that this would cheer her because Saturday is the day of the week dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus. Bakhita replied, “Yes, I am so happy: Our Lady … Our Lady!” These were her last audible words.