St. Josephine Bakhita, African Flower
SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA (1869 - 1947)
Her bio from Catholic.org with some minor spelling corrections and emphasis by me.
St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869. This African flower, who knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, bloomed marvelously in Italy, in response to God’s grace, with the Daughters of Charity, where everyone still calls her “Mother Moretta” (our Black Mother”).
Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. The fright and the terrible experience she went through made her forget the name her parents gave her. Bakhita, which means “fortunate”, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.
Sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, she experienced the physical and moral humiliations and sufferings of slavery. In the Sudanese capital, Bakhita was bought by an Italian consul, Callisto Legnani. For the first time since the day she was kidnapped, she realized with pleasant surprise that no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated with love and cordiality. In the consul’s residence Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled with nostalgia for her own family whom, perhaps, she had lost forever.
The political situation forced the consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and a friend of his, a certain Mr. Augusto Michieli. On their arrival in Genoa, Mr. Legnani, at the request of Mr. Michieli’s wife, agreed to leave Bakhita with them. She followed the new “family”, which settled in Zianigo, near Mirano Veneto.
When their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend. The acquisition and management of a large hotel in Suakin on the Red Sea forced Mrs. Michieli to move to Suakin to help her husband. Meanwhile, on the advice of their administrator, Mimmina and Bhakita were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.
It was there that that Bakhita came to know about God, whom “she had experienced in her heart without knowing who he was” since she was a child. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage…”.
After several months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation and was given a new name, Josephine. It was 9 January 1890. She did not know how to express her joy that day. Her big and expressive eyes sparkled, revealing deep emotions. From then on, she was often seen kissing the baptismal font and saying: “Here, I became a daughter of God!”.
When Mrs. Michieli returned from Africa to take her daughter and Bakhita, the latter, with unusual firmness and courage, expressed her desire to remain with the Canosian Sisters and to serve that God who had shown her so many proofs of his love. The young African, who by then had come of age, enjoyed the freedom of choice which Italian law guaranteed.
Bakhita remained in the catechumenate where she experienced the call to be a religious and to give herself to the Lord in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa. On 8 December 1896 Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God, whom she called by the sweet name of “the Master!”. For the next 50 years this humble Daughter of Charity, a true witness to the love of God, lived in the Schio community, involved in various services: cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door.
When she was on duty at the door, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who daily attended the Canossian schools and caress them. Her amicable voice, which had the infection and rhythm of music of her country, was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering and encouraging to those who knocked at the institute’s door.
Her humility, simplicity and constant smile won the hearts of all the citizens. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her constant sweet nature, exquisite goodness and deep desire to make the Lord known. “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who not know him. What a great grace it is to know God!”, she said.
As she grew older she experienced long, painful years of sickness. Mother Bakhita continued to witness to faith, goodness and Christian hope. To those who visited her and asked how she was, she would respond with a smile: “As the Master desires”. During her agony, she relived the terrible days of her slavery and more than once begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains…they are heavy!”.
It was Blessed Mary who freed her from pain. Her last words were: “Our lady! Our Lady!”, and her final smile testified to her encounter with the Lord’s Mother.
Mother Bakhita breathed her last on 8 February 1947 at the Canossian convent in Schio, surrounded by the sisters. A crowd quickly gathered at the convent to have a last look at their “Mother Moretta” and ask for her protection from heaven. The fame of her sanctity has spread to all the continents and many receive graces through her intercession.
Josephine Bakhita was beatified on 17 May 1992, and Canonized on 1 October 2000
For more on St. Bakhita, check this out. Also, here are some quotes by Bl. Pope John Paul II at a Mass he celebrated in honor of St. Josephine during his Apostolic Visit to Sudan in 1993. You can read all of his homily here.
In the midst of so much hardship, Blessed Bakhita is your model and heavenly patron. In the terrible trials of her life Bakhita always listened to Christ’s word. She learned the mystery of his Cross and Resurrection: the saving truth about God who so loved each one of us that he gave his only Son (Cf. Jn. 3: 16), the saving truth about the Son who loves each one of us to the end (Cf. ibid. 13: 1).
Blessed Bakhita was faithful, she was strong. She confided in Christ without reserve. She showed herself a servant of God by patiently enduring troubles, hardships and difficulties, by purity, knowledge, forbearance and kindness (Cf. 2Cor. 6: 4-6) – like the first Christians who, in the midst of the persecutions of the Roman Empire, showed themselves to be “servants of God… in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute” (Ibid. 6: 8). So writes the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Corinthians. And so speaks the history of the Church in Africa, not excluding the countries which I have now visited: Benin, Uganda, the Sudan.
It was the power of God which made Bakhita – in the likeness of Christ – into the one who enriches many. The poor slave–girl who had nothing showed that she was in fact the one who had the greatest treasure (Cf. ibid. 6: 10). And even if, humanly speaking, she seemed condemned to death, she lives! (Cf. ibid. 6: 9). She lives just as Christ lives, though he was condemned to death and was crucified. She lives with his life!
Lastly, here is what Pope Benedict XVI, had to say about St. Josephine Bakhita in his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi:
Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.