February 8, is the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, the first saint of Sudan. I was lucky to be at Saint Peter's Square in October, 2000, when she was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in the Jubilee Year 2000. I was there because Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was canonized the same day. After renting the movie "Bakhita", from Giacomo Campiotti, I realized how fortunate I was to be in Rome that special day.
"Josephine was born in Darfur, Sudan somewhere around 1869 and taken by muslim slavers when she was only about 7 years old. She was sold to various master’s including one who beat her nearly to death and then the Turkish General whose wife had her tattooed. She was 13 when this happened. A woman was hired who put 114 cuts all over the saint’s body (not her face) and rubbed them with flour and salt to ensure maximum scarring. The pain and blood-loss this child suffered is beyond imagining.
She had no memory of her own name and was named Bakhita by her captors. It means ‘fortunate one’- a cruel joke but one that she was to treasure. All her life she sought God and Truth, believing she would find it some day and as she sought Him, she was bound to find Him.
Finally little Bakhita was bought by an Italian consul Callisto Legnani who rescued her with the intention of setting her free. But the war with the Arab factions was heating up in Africa, the Italians needed to leave and he gave Bakhita over to a friend whose Orthodox wife was expecting a child. They escaped to Italy and Bakhita became nurse to the little girl Minimma.
Some time later Minimma’s parent’s left for business and Bakhita was to take the child and live under the care of the Canossian sisters. It was here, at last that she found what she was looking for.
There is a crucifix in the chapel there, where she first set eyes on her Lord and Saviour. She never hated those who had tormented her so much and as the sisters taught her about Jesus and the Church she found a Lord who loved her and a freedom she had never had.
When Minimma’s parent’s returned they wanted to take Bakhita back with them, but she was granted her freedom in an Italian court.
In 1890 she was baptised and took the name Josephine-or more correctly Guiseppina Margarita. She joined the Canossian sisters and worked as portress for something like 45 years. She seems to have had a great love of the children and they of her, calling her ‘la nostra madre moretta’ (our little brown mother).
Her years of slavery had knocked her about though and she suffered with poor health. She died on Feb 8th 1947, undoubtedly having suffered to watch Italy go through upheaval of war.
I love her because she never let what happened to her as a child destroy her life. She loved no matter what and was never resentful. Her ability to forgive, just astonishes me.
I love the fact she genuinely wanted to know who God is-where He was to be found-and He guided her to Himself."