It is natural to express thanksgiving for being released from difficult trials and circumstances. But who would be grateful for those who cause such difficult trials or circumstances? This is the stuff of saints — the very stuff of which Saint Josephine Bakhita was made.
No one knows her real name. The horrific brutality she had experienced at the hand of slave-traders caused her to forget the name she had been given by her parents. The first trader snatched her as she took a short walk from her home when she was only nine years old. Poking a knife in her side, he threatened to kill her if she made any trouble. The slave-trader shackled her to a group of three or four other little captives and led them off into the African forest. When the shackles were temporarily removed so they could eat, the children fled through the forest, only to be ensnared by a second slave-trader at whose home they had sought asylum. Bakhita, which means “fortunate,” was the name given to her by the second slave-trader.
Bakhita was taken to the markets in Obeid and Khartoum, and sold again and again. Through the years she was subjected to all of the humiliations, beatings and tortures associated with slavery. One gruesome and painful suffering she was subjected to was a custom called “marking.” Bakhita was tied to stakes in the ground while intricate patterns were cut into her flesh with a knife and a razor. Salt was poured into the cuttings to prevent them from closing. Flour was then caked into the open wounds so that the pattern would be exposed as a contrast against her dark flesh. One hundred and fourteen patterns were carved into Bakhita’s arms, breasts and abdomen. Lying in a pool of blood and overcome with pain and agony, Bakhita fell in and out of consciousness, certain that she would die. About that experience she later said, “I can truly say that it was a miracle I did not die, because the Lord had destined me for greater things.”
Eventually, Bakhita was purchased by an Italian consul named Calisto Legnani who treated her with dignity and respect. He took Bakhita to Italy with him and placed her in the home of friends, who were expecting a new baby. After the child was born, Bakhita stayed with them as a nursemaid. During this time Bakhita was introduced to the Catholic faith through the Canossian Sisters of Charity. She said, “I enjoyed the opportunity to be instructed in the Christian faith. The saintly sisters helped me to know God, whom I had experienced in my heart since childhood.” Bakhita asked to stay at the convent, and she was permitted to do so.
On January 9, 1890, Bakhita was baptized in the Catholic Church and experienced “such joy that only angels could describe!” She took the name Giuseppina (Josephine). Before long, Josephine discerned a vocation, and six years later she took the habit of the Canossian Sisters of Charity. She spent her days in humble service, working in the kitchen and doing embroidery and sewing. When her biography was published in 1930, Sister Josephine was asked to speak in public settings. She used these opportunities to further the cause of the missions.
Of the difficult days of slavery and those who mistreated her, Sister Josephine said, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today.” Sister Josephine Bakhita, affectionately called “Mother Moretta” (Black Mother) died on February 8, 1947 and was canonized on October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Indeed, Bakhita had become “the Fortunate One.”
Faith in Action
Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” God worked great good out of Sister Josephine Bakhita’s suffering. What painful experience has God used in my life to work great good for me or for another? Can you thank Him for that experience?