Good morning everyone,
Today, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita. Born around the year 1869 in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, not far from Mount Agilerei, she was part of the prestigious Daju people. While she was still a very young girl aged 7-9 years, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders and forced to walk barefoot to El Obeid, approximately 960km away. Due to the trauma of her abduction and ensuing slavery, she even forgot her name. Instead, the slavers gave her an Arabic name: bakhita
, an Arabic word which means 'lucky'. Over the course of twelve years, she was sold over and over again, and eventually found herself in the service of an Italian family not far from Turin.
In November 1888, the Michieli family, who were served by Bakhita, left her in the care of Canossian Sisters in Venice while they returned to the Sudan. Their intention was to eventually take her with them, but when they returned to Italy one year later, she refused to leave the convent.
The fact is that during their absence, Bakhita started learning about Christianity, and by the time they arrived and tried to take her away, she appealed to the superior of the institute for baptismal candidates (Catechumenate) for help. They complained to the Italian authorities and the Italian court ruled that since the British had induced Sudan to outlaw slavery before Bakhita was born, and because Italian law did not recognize slavery, Bakhita had never legally been a slave.
Bakhita chose to stay with the Canossians, and a few months later, on 9 January 1890, she was baptized and took the Christian names Josephine, Margaret and Fortunata (the Latin translation of the Arabic word bakhita). Josephine was also confirmed and received Holy Communion on that same day. Three years later, she entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and on 8 December 1896, she took vows. She lived in the Canossian convent at Schio, in the northern Italian province of Vicenza for most of the next 42 years.
Josephine's gentleness, calming voice and ever-present smile earned her a place of great respect among the citizens of Schio. She who was born in Sudan but spent the majority of her life in Italy helps us to see the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30) in a new light. She who was a foreigner dared to ask Jesus for a favour, and because of her persistence and faith, Jesus granted her request for help. Like the woman in Mark's gospel, Josephine also prayed for the people she encountered and sought to serve them lovingly.
Both the Syrophoenician woman and Saint Josephine Bakhita encourage us today to open our hearts to the people God places in our lives. In that way, we can begin to recognize their needs, but perhaps more importantly, we can dare to allow them to love us and to show us the tender face of God.
Have a great day.