Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in Darfur (now in western Sudan) in the village of Olgossa, She was of the Daju people. She said in her autobiography: “I lived a very happy and carefree life, without knowing what suffering was”. In 1877, when she was 7–8 years old, she was seized by Arab slave traders. then sold and bought twice before she arrived at El-Obeid. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889), she was sold three more times, and then she was finally given her freedom.

‘Bakhita’ was not her birth name. It is said the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her original name; so she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhīta (بخيتة), Arabic for ‘lucky’ or ‘fortunate’. Then she was forcibly converted to Islam. She once said that the most terrifying of all of her memories in El-Obeid was when she (along with other slaves) was marked by a process resembling both scarification and tattooing, which was traditionally practiced throughout Sudan.

By the end of 1882, El-Obeid came under the threat of an attack by Mahdist revolutionaries. In 1883, Bakhita was bought in Khartoum by the Italian Vice Consul Callisto Legnani, who did not beat or punish her. Two years later, when Legnani himself had to return to Italy, Bakhita begged to go with him. At the end of 1884, they escaped from Khartoum with a friend, Augusto Michieli. She lived in Italy for three years and became nanny to Michieli’s daughter Alice, known as ‘Mimmina’, born in February 1886. The Michaelis brought Bakhita with them back to the Sudan where they stayed for nine months before returning to Italy.

Since the Michielis’s villa in Zianigo was already sold, Bakhita and Mimmina needed a temporary place to stay while Micheli went to Sudan without them. On the advice of their business agent Illuminato Cecchini, on 29 November 1888, Michieli’s wife left her daughter and Bakhita in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There, cared for and instructed by the Sisters, Bakhita encountered Christianity for the first time. Grateful to her teachers, she recalled, “Those holy mothers instructed me with heroic patience and introduced me to that God who from childhood I had felt in my heart without knowing who He was.”

When Michieli returned to take her daughter and maid back to Suakin, Bakhita firmly refused to leave.  On 29 November 1889, an Italian court ruled that because the British had outlawed slavery in Sudan before Bakhita’s birth and because Italian law had never recognized slavery as legal, Bakhita had never legally been a slave. For the first time in her life, Bakhita found herself in control of her own destiny, and she chose to remain with the Canossians. On 9 January 1890 Bakhita was baptized with the names of ‘Josephine Margaret’ and ‘Fortunata’ (the Latin translation of the Arabic Bakhita). On the same day, she was also confirmed and received Holy Communion from Archbishop Giuseppe Sarto, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice and later Pope Pius X.

On 7 December 1893, Josephine Bakhita entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters, and on 8 December 1896, she took her vows, welcomed by Cardinal Sarto. In 1902 she was assigned to the Canossian convent at Schio, in the northern Italian province of Vicenza, where she spent the rest of her life. Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair but she retained her cheerfulness, and if asked how she was, she would always smile and answer: “As the Master desires.” Bakhita died at 8:10 PM on 8 February 1947. On 17 May 1992, she was declared Blessed and given 8 February as her feast day. On 1 October 2000, she was canonized as Saint Josephine Bakhita. She is venerated as a modern African saint, and as a statement against the brutal history of slavery. She has been adopted as the patron saint of modern Sudan and human trafficking survivors.

Bibliographies

Accessed Wikipedia.org 16 May 2022.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1527 – Roman Catholics in Rottenburg, Germany, try the Sattlers, an Anabaptist couple. Michael Sattler will be burned at the stake on the 20th of the month.

1766John Grimshaw, son of William Grimshaw before dying says, ” “What will my old father say when he sees I have got to heaven?”

1834 – Execution of Chinese Christian Peter Liu Wenyuan who had spent over thirty years in exile as a slave for his faith.

1972 – The Hutu Father Michael Kayoya of Burundi, a small nation in eastern Africa, is executed. He is one of thousands executed in genocidal murder. About one-half of all Catholic catechists in Burundi will be killed.

Accessed ChristianHistoryInstitute.org and Rhemalogy.com 16 May 2022.

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