Welcome, one and all, to Unpleasant Accents' first annual Saintathon! To commemorate our anniversary, which falls on All Saints Day, our team is posting about their favourite Saints throughout the week. We begin with Saint Josephine Bakhita:
Saint Josephine Bakhita is not exactly a household name when it comes to Catholic Saints, and that's a shame. Bakhita's story is one of courage, forgiveness and renewal, and it deserves to be told.
Bakhita was born in Darfur, Sudan, around 1869. As a young girl, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders, sold into slavery, forcibly converted to Islam and suffered repeated abuse, including a horrible process similar to scarification and tattooing, etching 114 intricate patterns into her breasts, belly and right arm.
Due to the trauma of the abduction, Bakhita forgot her birth name, but she adopted the one given to her by the slavers. Bakhita is Arabic for "lucky" — but it would be God, not luck, Who would guide her life in a new direction.
Bakhita was sold multiple times and eventually wound up under the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice, in 1888. A superior of the order helped Bakhita secure her freedom the next year, and she was baptised and confirmed by and received First Holy Communion from the future Pope Pius X, in 1890.
She would take vows and become a Canossian herself in 1896 and was later transferred to the convent in Schio, located in northern Italy, in 1902. Bakhita spent the rest of her life there and was beloved by the townspeople, especially during World War II, during which the African-born Sister was a source of comfort as the conflict raged on. They would call her nostra Madre Moretta, "Our Black Mother".
Bakhita's humility and strength of spirit is best exemplified by her response to a young student who asked her, "What would you do, if you were to meet your captors?"
"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."
We are saturated with saccharine platitudes asking, "What would Jesus do?" as if the question were some profound statement about how to live a moral life. Truthfully, I find assumptions about what the Son of God would do in any mundane situation presumptuous, but if anyone lived the Christ-like life, it was Bakhita.
Echoing the people of her beloved Schio, Pope Saint John Paul II declared Bakhita a "universal sister" and honoured her during his 1993 visit to Sudan, despite the country's ban on telling her story, due to the negative light it casts on Islam. Christians still suffer in the Sudan and throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and millions persist in slavery even today. Bakhita, unlike many who have endured the master's whip, was able to live out her days a free woman, but her freedom was twofold: She went from involuntary servitude for her fellow man, to the joyful service of her Lord, in whom true freedom is found, and in front of whose Throne of Grace she now prays, for all eternity.
Prayer for the Virtues of Saint Josephine Bakhita
O Holy Trinity,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we thank you for the gifts
of humility and charity
which you bestowed on
Saint Josephine Bakhita.
Deign to glorify her
for her singular virtues
and grant the prayers
of those who invoke her,
Saint Josephine Bakhita, ora pro nobis.
Born: Circa 1869
Died: February 8, 1947
Beatified: May 17, 1992
Canonised: October 1, 2000
Feast Day: February 8
Saint Josephine Bakhita's biography and many of her quotes are available from the Vatican, the National Black Catholic Congress, Saints.SQPN.com, bakhitacatholic.info and African Online News.
The Homily from the Eucharistic Celebration in Honor of Blessed Josephine Bakhita (1993), by Pope Saint John Paul II, was delivered shortly after her beatification, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in defiance of the governmental gag order placed on mentioning Bakhita's story. John Paul would go on to canonise her seven years later.
Spe Salvi (2007), by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, opens with a discussion of Bakhita's life. Benedict draws a beautiful comparison between her life and the lives of the early Christians, who, like Bakhita, came from the lower social strata of society and endured harsh persecution.