Black (And Catholic) Like Me 3: St. Josephine Bakhita (Black History Month 2019)
Some intense back problems and trying to catch up on seminary work kept me from posting about the last two Black Saints of February, but I still want to get their stories out at least. So, now I post one of them up now, and I will get the second up as soon as possible. They will be without personal reflections for the time being. They will be place in the Black Saints page soon. Since they were meant to be in February, they are still considered to be Black History month posts.
This is the third installment of Black (And Catholic) Like Me, an article-series that features a Black Catholic saint from history (or soon to be one) and tells a little about him/her and what I believe we can all learn from this godly one about holiness. The idea is simple. Here’s someone who was Black and Catholic, like me. For more info on this article-series and others, visit here.
St. Josephine Bakhita F.D.C.C.,: From Slavery of the Body to Freedom of the Soul
Death: February 8, 1947
Canonized: October 1, 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II
Patronage: Sudan, South Sudan, human trafficking survivors
Feast Day: February 8
Some of the following is drawn from The Bakhita Foundation’s page on her (BF) and her Wikipedia page (Wiki).
Early Life and Kidnapped Into Slavery
- Born into well off family in Darfur (modern western Sudan) in 1869.
- “She belonged to the prestigious Daju people; her respected and reasonably prosperous father was brother of the village chief.” (Wiki)
- Initially had a happy life not knowing much suffering
- “I lived a very happy and carefree life, without knowing what suffering (was)” – Josephine Bakhita (Wiki)
- All that changed when at 7 years old she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders and sold into slavery, who had abducted her older sister two years earlier. (Wiki)
- Josephine later recalled that when she captured she was unable to remember her out of fear and trauma. Her captors named her “Bakhita”, which means “fortunate” in Arabic.
- She was forced to convert to Islam.
- Bakhita would be bought and sold various times by multiple harsh owners. and suffered greatly.
- Once she was sold to a family that treated her well. She was bought to mainly serve the daughters of her owner as a maid. Her good treatment was later reversed after she broke a vase, which infuriated the son of the owner who kicked her repeatedly and hurt her so bad she was not to get up from her bed for a month. (Wiki)
- “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.” (BF)
- “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.” – (Wiki)
- Bakhita would be “exchang[ed] hands five or six times.”
Escape to Italy
- In 1883 an Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legnani, who had been staying in Sudan, and bought her and treated her well.
- In 1884 Legani was planning to return to Italy, Bakhita begged him to take her with him to escape the life of slavery.
- “By the end of 1884 they escaped from besieged Khartoum with a friend, Augusto Michieli.” (Wiki)
- They made it another Sudanese city where “they were met there by Augusto Michieli’s wife Signora Maria Turina Michieli. Callisto Legnani gave ownership of Bakhita to Turina Michieli. Bakhita’s new owners took her to their family villa at Zianigo, near Mirano, Veneto, about 25 km (16 mi) west of Venice.” (Wiki)
A New Life in Italy, Freedom at Last, and Her Conversion
- She served as a nanny for her new owner’s daughter.
- “Bakhita found herself serving as a caretaker for a young girl at a school in Venice run by Canossian Sisters, F.D.C.C..” (BF)
- After some time in Italy the family would return periodically to Sudan for business taking Bakhita with them and come back home.
- One day Augusto Michieli wanted to move the family permanently to Sudan because he had purchased a hotel.
- He started to sell all his properties in Italy and began to process of moving the family down to Sudan, but the selling took longer than expected.
- He eventually sold the place that Bakhita and his daughter had lived in, and they needed a temporary place to stay.
- His wife Maria Turina (who went to join her husband in Sudan) chose to place them in the care of the local congregation of Canossian Sisters in Venice.
- “There, cared for and instructed by the Sisters, Bakhita encountered Christianity for the first time. Grateful to her teachers, she recalled, ‘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.’” (Wiki)
- “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.” (BF)
- When Maria Turina returned to take her daughter and Bakhita to the new home in Sudan Bakhita refused to go with her.
- Maria Turina persisted and eventually made a legal appeal to force Bakhita to leave with them.
- “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.” (BF)
- “For the first time in her life, Bakhita found herself in control of her own destiny. She chose to remain with the Canossians.” (Wiki)
- She was baptized in January of 1890 with the new names of Josephine Margaret and Fortunata (“Fortunate” just like “Bakhita”)
Free in Body and in Soul – The Rest of Her Life as a Canossian Sister
- Josephine entered the Canossians in December of 1893 and made final vows in December 1896.
- She spent the rest of life with the Sisters at a convent in northern Italy.
- She visited other sisters in Italy on occasion and told about her life.
- She would help prepare other sisters who would serve in Africa as missionaries.
- “A strong missionary drive animated her throughout her entire life – “her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa.” (Wiki)
- “During her 42 years in Schio, Bakhita was employed as the cook, sacristan and portress (door keeper) and was in frequent contact with the local community. 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; the first publication of her story (Storia Meravigliosa by Ida Zanolini) in 1931, made her famous throughout Italy.” (Wiki)
- She was revered as a saint by the local towns people while alive.
- After years of illness she died in 1947.
- The story of her last moments: (Wiki)
“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.”
“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
The Bakhita Foundation – “a Catholic apostolate committed to ending sex trafficking and exploitation and helping all impacted by sexual slavery to find healing and restoration.”
St. Josephine Bakhita pray for us!