Josephine Bakhita’s life started like many other children amid a loving family in the southern Sudan’s Darfur region. But before she reached the age of ten, she was kidnapped by slave traders. The experience frightened her so badly that she forgot her name. She became known as Bakhita, which sounds like a cruel joke, since the word means “fortunate.”
She was traded time and time again to a series of men, including one who had her tattooed everywhere but her face. Most beat her; all whipped her. Then came the Italian consul in Khartoum, who was kinder than the others and who passed her on to a friend in Italy. There, she attended the Canossian Sisters’ Institute of Catechumens in Venice as the caregiver of the man’s young daughter. She liked to sit and contemplate the crucifix; Jesus’s wounds and sufferings did not seem unlike her own. Ultimately, Josephine regained her freedom with the help of the Canossians and the Venetian patriarch.
It’s easy to understand why Josephine eventually became a Canossian sister. What is more challenging to understand—and so inspirational—is that she forgave the slave traders who had abused her and robbed her of so much, including the family she never saw again. Indeed, she said she was grateful to them and recognized the good fortune they had brought her, for otherwise she would not have had an opportunity to become a Christian.
Our life journeys take us to some painful places—the loss of loved ones, illness, physical violence, betrayal. And yet God is there with us every step of the way, offering his healing balm if we have faith and trust enough to accept it—and to share his love and forgiveness with others, even those who reject him and us.
The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone…we must be compassionate! (Saint Josephine Bakhita)
Each time you are tempted to complain today, stop yourself and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for how God has helped you through the trials of life. Pray for the faith to believe he will see you through your current struggles as well.
Josephine’s body was mutilated by those who enslaved her, but they could not touch her spirit. Her Baptism set her on an eventual path toward asserting her civic freedom and then service to God’s people as a Canossian Sister.
She who worked under many “masters” was finally happy to address God as “master” and carry out everything that she believed to be God’s will for her.
Read more about her life.