Saint Josephine Bakhita’s journey from a life of profound suffering to sainthood is a remarkable testament to resilience and faith. Born into a wealthy Sudanese family in 1869, her childhood was abruptly shattered at the age of 7 when she was kidnapped by slave traders. Subjected to severe humiliation and physical abuse, she was sold multiple times in the slave markets of El Obeid and Khartoum. The name “Bakhita,” meaning “the lucky one,” was cruelly bestowed upon her by her captors, a name that held a painful irony during her years in bondage.

Bakhita’s life took a pivotal turn when she was purchased by an Italian consul in the capital of Sudan. Unlike her previous masters, he treated her with kindness. When he and his friend, Mr. Augusto Michieli, returned to Italy, Bakhita accompanied them. In Italy, she found a new role as a nanny and companion to the Michielis’ daughter, Mimmina, experiencing a semblance of family life.

Her path to spiritual awakening began when the Michielis left for business in Suakin, entrusting Mimmina and Bakhita to the Canossian Sisters in Venice. It was here that Bakhita encountered the Christian faith, recognizing a God she felt she had always known in her heart. At 21, she was baptized, taking the name Josephine, and declared herself a daughter of God, marking the start of her new life in Christ.

Choosing to stay with the sisters over returning to the Michielis, Josephine joined the Institute of Saint Magdalene of Canossa in 1896, dedicating her life to God. For 50 years, she served in the community of Schio, performing various tasks and ministering to the poor with her characteristic gentleness and humility. Despite suffering from a painful illness in her later years, Josephine’s faith remained unwavering, always responding to inquiries about her wellbeing with, “As the Master desires.”

Josephine’s final days were marked by a revisitation of her traumatic past, yet she found solace in her faith, passing away on February 8th, 1947, with a serene smile and invoking the Virgin Mary. Her life story, celebrated by Pope John Paul II at her canonization, serves as a powerful call to action against the oppression and violence faced by women and girls, embodying the spirit of true emancipation and the dignity of every human being.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr

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