Saint Josephine Bakhita
A Woman of Faith and Forgiveness
Born: 1869 in Sudan
Died: 1947 in Italy
Beatified: May 17, 1992
Canonized: October 1, 2000
February 8 is the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita. Bakhita Charities is named after her.
Saint Bakhita lived long ago. She was born around the year 1869 in the African country of Sudan, in the region of Darfur, in the city of Olgossa. She died on 8 February 1947 in the country of Italy, in the city of Vincenza.
Bakhita is a saint in the Catholic Church. She was beatified on 17 May 1992 and canonized on 1 October 2000. She is the only saint originally from Sudan and she is now the patron saint of Sudan. She is also a patron saint for victims of slavery and trafficked persons.
Story of Her Life in Slavery
She was born in Sudan, Africa to a loving, and prosperous family. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery, where a series of owners humiliated, tortured and mutilated her. She was often beaten and kicked and whipped. Her trauma was so great that she forgot her birth name and her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita which means fortunate.
At the age of 13 she was sold to a Turkish general and every day his mistresses punished her with whips and beatings. Bakhita underwent the excruciating ordeal of tattooing. She said, "A woman skilled in this cruel art came to the general's house. Our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor. When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds. My face was spared, but 6 patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds ... it was by a miracle of God I didn't die. He had destined me for better things." In total, she bore 144 physical scars for the rest of her life.
In 1883, Bakhita was sold to an Italian family who treated her with kindness and respect. They brought her back to Italy to work as a maid and care giver to their baby, Mimmina. Bakhita became devoted to the child. When Mimmina was old enough to be sent to a boarding school in Venice, Bakhita accompanied her. The school was run by the Canossian Sisters. It was there that Bakhita first heard the gospel and believed that it was God’s will that she be free. Slavery was illegal in Italy, so Bakhita was able to leave her Italian owners and follow God’s calling for her.
Story of Her Life in the Convent
Bakhita was baptized in January 1890 and took the name Josephine. She was also known as “Mother Moretta”, our Black Mother. She then remained in the catechumenate for four more years. She said, "during that time I could hear more and more clearly the gentle voice of the Lord, urging me to consecrate myself to God."
After prayer and discernment, Josephine joined the religious order, pronouncing her religious vows on 8 December 1896 at the age of 27. The next fifty years of her life were marked by simplicity, witnessing to God’s love through cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door. She used to tell the teachers in the community "You teach catechism, I will stay in the chapel and pray for you that you may teach well."
When she was on door duty, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who attended the nearby school and caress them. Her voice was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering. She was a source of encouragement. Her constant smile, humility and simplicity won people’s hearts.
As she grew older, she experienced long, painful years of sickness, but she continued to persevere in hope, constantly choosing the good. When visited and asked how she was, she’d respond: "As the Master desires."
Surrounded by the sisters, she died at age 78. She lay in state for three days, and mourners noticed that her limbs remained flexible. Mothers lifted her hands and placed them on the heads of their children, praying for her blessing. Large crowds followed her hearse to the cemetery. She was a woman of immense faith and forgiveness.