Thought for the Day – 8 February – The Memorial of St Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947)
Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita, meaning “fortunate.” Her life in captivity wasn’t quite so. Born in Darfur in 1869, Josephine Bakhita was taken by Arab slave traders when she was 9. Forced to walk 600 miles to southern Sudan, she was bought and sold before arriving in El Obeid. But of all the indignities Josephine faced as a slave—far too many to mention here—one in particular stands out.
Through a combination of branding and tattooing, Josephine suffered the traditional Sudanese practice where a pattern was cut into her skin with a razor. To ensure scarification, salt was poured into the open wounds. When it was finished, 140 intricate patterns were carved into her breast, torso and arm. She also faced countless beatings and lashings from a revolving door of owners as well as a forced conversion to Islam.
Left by her owner in the custody of the Daughters of Charity in Venice in 1888, Josephine finally found refuge. Baptised in 1890, she took her final vows in 1896 and spent the rest of her life in Vicenza as a doorkeeper and cook. She died in 1947. Beatified in 1992, she was Canonised by St Pope John Paul II eight years later.
During Josephine’s years as doorkeeper, Italians were taken by her cheerful demeanour. But the horrors of slavery troubled her the rest of her life. Her final years were marred by sickness. In a fevered state, she once pleaded with a nurse to loosen the chains that bound her wrists. But she never lost her belief in God. When visitors asked how she was feeling, Josephine’s token response to them was, “As the Master desires.”
That total abandonment to God would be Josephine’s legacy—and it is one we can work toward as 21st-century Catholics. As the season of Lent approaches, in this month of recognising our brothers and sisters, the victims of Human Trafficking, these words from St Pope John Paul II, who beatified her, ring true: “God used [Josephine] to teach us all the meaning of Jesus’ words: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.’”
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