Saint Josephine Bakhita (1869 – February 8 1947) is a Roman Catholic saint.
Bakhita was born to a locally important family in Olgossa
, a village in the western Sudanese
region of Darfur
. Her father was the brother of a tribal chief. At the age of seven she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders
and over the course of the next eight years was sold and resold five times in the markets of El Obeid
. The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name, and the name we know her by is a compound of the name given her by the slavers (bakhita
, the Arabic
word for lucky
) and the Christian name she took in adulthood She was also forcibly converted to Islam
Life as a Slave
Bakhita suffered much brutality during her captivity. On one occasion, one of her owner's sons beat her so severely that she spent a month unable to move from a straw bed. She later recalled that her most terrifying memory was of her fourth owner, an Ottoman Army
officer, having her (in common with all his other slaves) marked as "his" by a process resembling both scarification
. Her memoirs, written in Italian
many years later, recall that a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a blade were brought by a woman, who drew patterns on her skin and then cut deeply along the lines before filling the wounds with salt and flour to ensure permanent scarring. More than sixty patterns were cut into her breasts, belly, and arms.
Her final owner was an Italian
diplomat, Callisto Legnani. He and his friend, Augusto Michieli, brought her to Italy
. She became nanny to the Michieli's daughter, Mimmina. In 1888 or 1889 Bakhita and Mimmina were left in the custody of the Canossian Sisters
while the Michielis moved to the Red Sea
on business. In 1890 she was baptised at her own instigation, and took the Christian name Giuseppina Margarita
When the Michielis returned to collect her and their daughter, Bakhita did not want to leave. Signora Michieli tried to force the issue, but the superior of the school that Bakhita and Signorina Mimmina had attended in Venice complained to the authorities. An Italian court ruled that since Sudan had outlawed slavery before Bakhita's birth, and since in any case Italian law did not recognise slavery, Bakhita had never in fact been a slave. Bakhita had now reached the age of majority, and she found herself in control of her own destiny for the first time in her life. She chose to remain with the Canossians.
In 1896 she joined the sisters permanently, and, in 1902, she was assigned to a house in Schio
in the northern Italian
province of Vicenza
, where she spent the rest of her life. Her only extended time away from Schio was between 1935 and 1938, a period she spent in helping prepare young sisters for work in Africa.
During her 45 years in Schio, Josephine was usually employed as portress (door keeper) of her house, and so was in frequent contact with the local community. Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile became well known and Vicenzans still refer to her as la nostra madre moretta ("our little brown mother"). Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity were noticed by her order, and she was instructed to publish her memoirs and to give talks about her experiences; these made her famous throughout Italy. Her last years were marked by pain and sickness, but she retained her cheerfulness, and if asked how she was, would always smile and answer "as the Master desires".
Illness and Death
In the extremity of her last days her mind was driven back to the years of her slavery and in her delirium she would cry out "Please, loosen the chains ... they are so heavy"
. Giuseppina died on February 8
. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects.
Legacy and Canonization
The calls for her canonization
began immediately, and the process began in 1959, only twelve years after her death. On December 1
, Pope John Paul II
declared Giuseppina Venerabilis
, the first step towards canonization. On May 17
, she was declared Blessed
and given February 8
as her feast day. On October 1
, she was canonized and became Saint Josephine Bakhita. She is venerated as a modern African saint, and as a saint with a special relevance to slavery and oppression. She has been adopted as the patron saint
It was Mary Most Holy who freed her from all pain. Her last words were: “Our Lady! Our Lady!”, and her final smile testifiedto her encounter with the Mother of the Lord.