Archbishop Liborius N Nashenda, OMI

An African Woman Saint, Josephine Bakhita, “universal sister”, an evangelical model of humble faith and ardent
charity was canonized by Pope John Paul II for her hope and courage. She was born around 1869—she herself did
not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders and given
the name Bakhita (lucky) by them. She was sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum of Sudan.
Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged
every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by
an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy and introduced a totally different
kind of “master”, Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at
best considered her a useful slave. She came to know that Jesus even knew her, that he had created her—that he
actually loved her. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less
cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so
my life is good.” On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion and
on 8 December 1896, this African flower, who knew the anguish of kidnapping, slavery and torture, bloomed
marvelously in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Daughters of Charity and from that
time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys
round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with Jesus
Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The
hope born in her which had “redeemed” her, she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach
Josephine stood up for herself and put an end to the injustices she suffered, but she did not brood over past wrongs
or dwell in resentment for the entire trauma she had undergone. On the contrary, she actually expressed gratitude
for her past experiences. When a young student asked her what she would do if she were to meet her captors, she
responded without hesitation: “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would
kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious
today.” In our time, in which the unbridled race for power, money, and pleasure is the cause of so much
distrust, violence, and loneliness, Sister Bakhita has been given to us once more by the Lord as a universal
sister, so that she can reveal to us the secret of true happiness: the Beatitude.
What is particularly remarkable about Josephine is her ability to see God’s hand at work through every chapter of
her story, even those filled with darkness and tragedy. When she was introduced to Christ through the Canossian
Sisters, all the pieces of her life began to fall into place and make sense to her for the first time. She said, “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.” Bakhita’s legacy is that transformation is possible through suffering. Her
story of deliverance from physical slavery also symbolizes all those who find meaning and inspiration in her life for
their own deliverance from spiritual slavery. She never wavered to cling to the cross of Christ which brought
revivification of holiness in her life.
Pope Francis reminds the Christians of their duties in his Post-Synodal Exhortation to young people, Christus vivit
# 75: “as a Church, may we never fail to weep before these tragedies of our young. May we never become inured to
them, for anyone incapable of tears cannot be a mother. We want to weep so that society itself can be more of a
mother, so that in place of killing it can learn to give birth, to become a promise of life. We weep when we think of
all those young people who have already lost their lives due to poverty and violence, and we ask society to learn to
be a caring mother. None of this pain goes away; it stays with us, because the harsh reality can no longer be
concealed. The worst thing we can do is adopt that worldly spirit whose solution is simply to anaesthetize young
people with other messages, with other distractions, with trivial pursuits.” Referring to St. Josephine Bakhita, Pope
Francis mentions in his Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness, Gaudete et exsultate # 32: “Abducted and
sold into slavery at the tender age of seven, she suffered much at the hands of cruel masters. But she came to
understand the profound truth that God, and not man, is the true Master of every human being, of every human life.
This experience became a source of great wisdom for this humble daughter of Africa.”