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Celebrating the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita

Saint Josephine Bakhita

Feb. 8 is the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita. It is a day to remember her as a victim of human trafficking slavery and as the “black mother” who touched many lives. It is also a day to acknowledge massive human trafficking today and to commit to help stop this slavery primarily against young women and children.

Bakhita wasn’t her name at birth in Sudan in the region of Darfur. In the midst of beatings, tortures and sexual abuses that followed her kidnapping by Arab slave traders around the age of 8, this girl could not recall her real name. Bakhita was a name given to her by one of her many slave owners. The name meant “lucky” or “fortunate one,” another abuse of mockery, perhaps, in the midst of horror.

Bakhita was sold many times during her years of brutal slavery. Some of her treatment included “scarification and tattooing.” This treatment consisted of deeply cut wounds into which salt was poured to produce permanent scarring.

Eventually, a Turkish general sold Bakhita to a kind master who went to Italy. Through trades and other circumstances, Bakhita, was sent with members of a family to the care of the Canossian Sisters. It was here that Bakhita was freed. The sisters petitioned on her behalf and she was freed as slavery had been outlawed in Italy before Bakhita was born.

Bakhita entered the Canossian community in 1896 and became known as Sister Josephine Bakhita. She was thought to be a saint by most people who experienced her as having a special charisma, wisdom, deep love, and holiness. Sister Josephina Bakhita died in 1947 and was canonized in 2000. She is the only patron saint of Sudan.

Human trafficking continues and one might say it is rampant in the United States and other countries. There are some 20.9 million people in some form of slavery today. The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, coercion) for an improper purpose, including forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Does remembering Bakhita help you to work toward stopping this slavery in our day and time? Does it stir your “soul” to cry out against it and/or become more informed of its reality today? Does remembering Saint Josephine Bakhita move you to make a difference where you are?

Climate change increases the opportunities for human trafficking. To learn more about the connection between climate change and human trafficking, read The Climate Change-Human Trafficking Nexus.

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Sister Barbara Sheehan

Sister Barbara Sheehan, SP, a Sister of Providence since 1960, lives in Chicago and ministers as Executive Director/ACPE Supervisor of the Urban Clinical Pastoral Education Consortium, Inc. and as a spiritual director. She has extensive training not only in clinical pastoral supervision but also in care with those sexually abused, those challenged with mental illness and those suffering trauma. She has offered many workshops at regional, national and international conferences, is the author of Partner in Covenant: The Art of Spiritual Companionship and of numerous articles including one of her latest, Formation For Professional Practice: Addressing Social Hurts" in Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, Vol. 34 2014.

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5 Comments

  1. Cathy Campbell SP on February 8, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for this thought-provoking blog, Barbara. Since I learned about Sister Bakhita, I have tried to share her story when I have been able to do so. I also try to be aware of young people whom I encounter in Indy who may be caught up in this trade and to support efforts to fight the problem.

    • Rita Clare Gerardot, SP on February 8, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Barbara, thanks for this excellent article. I have a picture of Bakhita in the book I use for prayer in the morning, and I recite the prayer on the back each day. Father Dan based his homily today on Bakhita and her picture is on display in the sanctuary on the left side with vigil lights burning. Yes, she certainly suffered greatly and proved she was a saint by her actions.

  2. Rita Clare Gerardot, SP on February 8, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Barbara, thanks for this excellent article. I have a picture of Bakhita in the book I use for prayer in the morning, and I recite the prayer on the back each day. Father Dan based his homily today on Bakhita and her picture is on display in the sanctuary on the left side with vigil lights burning. Yes, she certainly suffered greatly and proved she was a saint by her actions.

  3. Marsha Speth on February 8, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Thank you, Barbara, for this information about J. Bakhita and for the article on the connection between human trafficking and climate change.

  4. Sheila Donis on February 14, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Sister Barbara, I am so honored to know about this saint. Thank you.

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