Today in the Catholic Church is the feast day of Josephine Margaret Bakhita, whose life story is truly an epic tale of upheaval, tragedy, danger, redemption, hope, forgiveness, and greatness. Despite the cruelty of her fellow men, she forgave them; despite the prejudices of her fellow men, she came to love them. She went from being a kidnapped slave girl in Sudan to a beloved saint and protectress in Schio, Vicenza, Italy. There were those who hated her and those who revered her during her life, but she is now fixed eternally as a canonized saint of the Catholic Church.
Her uncle was a tribal chief in the Darfur region of Sudan, but while still young she was captured by Arab slave traders and force-marched barefoot over 600 miles to a slave market in El Obeid. “For the next 12 years she would be bought, sold and given away over a dozen times. She spent so much time in captivity that she forgot her original name.” Her first owner, a rich Arab, was a good master until she broke a vase and was severely beaten and sold.
One mistress was a sadistic, evil woman. She beat Bakhita perpetually and “ordered her to be scarred. As her mistress watched, ready with a whip, another woman drew patterns on her skin with flour, then cut into her flesh with a blade. She rubbed the wounds with salt to make the scars permanent.”
Bakhita was eventually sold to an Italian Vice Consul and taken to Italy, where she was given to a family who temporarily placed her with the Canossian Sisters. Finally Bakhita was treated kindly and taught about God. An intervention from the superior of the institute for baptismal candidates among the Canossian sisters resulted in her being declared free by a court, and after she became Catholic she joined the Canossians.
”For the next 42 years of her life, she worked as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent. She also traveled and visited other convents telling her story to other sisters and preparing them for work in Africa.
She was known for her gentle voice and smile. She was gentle and charismatic, and was often referred to lovingly as the ‘little brown sister’ or honorably as the ‘black mother.’
When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers. For had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church.”
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