Wednesday, February 8, 2012

St Josephine Bakhita

Most people may not have heard of this saint, but please, read on - her story is truly remarkable. Early details about Bakhita are not fully known. She was born about 1869 in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Her prosperous father was brother of the village chief and she was surrounded by a loving family of three brothers and three sisters. But aged 9, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders, and was cruelly forced to walk about 600 miles in her bare feet. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three more times and then given away. The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhita, Arabic for lucky. She was also forcibly converted to Islam.
In 1883 Bakhita was bought by the Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani, who was a very kind man. For the first time since her captivity she was able to enjoy some peace and tranquility. Two years later, when Legnani himself had to retun to Italy, Bakhita begged to go with him. In April 1885 they arrived at the Italian port of Genoa, and she was greeted by Augusto Michieli, who took her to the family villa near Venice. She lived there for three years and became nanny to the Michieli's daughter Alice. The Michaelis bought some property in Sudan and wanted to move back there, but Josephine refused.

St Josephine with some students in Schio, Italy
On 9 January 1890 Bakhita was baptized with the names of Giuseppina Margherita. On the same day she was also confirmed and received communion from the Cardinal patriarch of Venice himself. On December 7, 1893 she entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and on December 8, 1896 she took her vows, welcomed by the future Pope Pius X. In 1902 she was assigned to the Canossian convent at Schio, in the northern Italian province of Vicenza, where she spent the rest of her life. During her 42 years in Schio, Bakhita was employed as the cook, sacristan and door keeper and was in frequent contact with the local community. 

Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile became well known. People still refer to her as Sor Moretta ("little brown sister") or Madre Moretta ("black mother.") Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair, but she retained her cheerfulness. Bakhita died on February 8, 1947. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. On May 17, 1992, she was declared Blessed and given February 8 as her feast day. On October 1, 2000, she was canonized and became Saint Josephine Bakhita, a modern African saint, and as a statement against the brutal history of slavery, becoming the patron saint of Sudan.

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