Saint Josephine was born in Darfur, in the Southern part of Sudan. At age nine, she was captured by slave raiders, taken from her village and country, and sold into slavery. She was given the name “Bakhita” by the slave traders, which translates as “fortunate one.” By the time she was thirteen years of age, she would be sold five separate times, the first four masters worse than the last. In her memoirs, Saint Josephine recounts the horrible treatment she endured, including heavy chains, whipping, starvation, lacerations, and tattooing. The tattooing was remembered as the worst of these, with 114 separate cuts being made over her entire body, and subsequently, the tattooist literally rubbing salt in the wounds, each day for a month. She attempted escape many times, but never succeeded.
“I really was the fortunate one, because the new master was a very good man and started to like me. I was not punished or whipped, so that it all seemed unreal to me, being able to enjoy such peace and tranquility." When her owner fled to Italy from the Sudan, she begged to accompany him.
In Italy, Josephine was exposed to Catholicism through a Venetian Institute of Catechism maintained by the Canossa Sisters, the Daughters of Charity. Josephine recounted that as her knowledge of the Lord grew, she recognized Christ as the One she had "experienced in her heart without knowing who it was" since she was a small child. She said, "Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage..." In 1890, she was baptized, and took the name Guiseppine (Josephine). She was subsequently oftentimes observed kissing the baptismal font, saying: "Here, I became a daughter of God!" Josephine remained in the catechumenate for 4 more years, "during which I could hear more and more clearly the gentle voice of the Lord, urging me to consecrate myself to God."
Josephine took her vows in 1893, becoming a Canossan Sister, and dedicating her life to works of charity. She is remembered for a gentle spirit, kind heart, overwhelming forgiveness, and simple joy. Sister Josephine was happy to take the most menial jobs, cooking, mending, sewing, cleaning, and greeting each visitor at the door of the convent. She used to tell her sisters, "You teach catechism, I will stay in the chapel and pray for you that you may teach well."
Over the next fifty years, she served her community with a constant smile. Though her health gradually worsened, forcing her into a wheelchair, she remained a model of holiness and charity. When asked how she was, Josephine would reply, “As the Master desires.” A sister further asked her once, "Do you wish to go to heaven?" She answered, "I neither wish to go nor to stay. God knows where to find me when he wants me!"
"Please, loosen the chains ... they are heavy!" Surrounded by her Canossan sisters, Saint Josephine breathed her last, ready to meet her Master, and looking to the comfort of the Holy Mother saying, "Madonna! Madonna!" (that is, "Our Lady! Our Lady!").
Beatified in 1992 and canonized in 2000, Pope John Paul II praised her for "leaving us a message of reconciliation and evangelic forgiveness in a world so much divided and hurt by hatred and violence. She, that was the victim of the worst injuries of all times, namely slavery, herself declared: 'If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I'd kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman'."
Saint Josephine Bakhita endured constant suffering and fear for most of her young life. She ached for the Lord, whom she lovingly referred to as “the Master,” even before she knew of Him. Throughout her life she practiced humility, forgiveness, and great love. She was fond of saying, “The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone… we must be compassionate!” reminding us of our duty to reflect the love of Christ throughout the world. Today, as we remember this brave and loving woman, we think about those people we struggle to forgive, the grudges we hold, and the stony places in our hearts. Saint Josephine Bakhita, like Jesus before her, looked at her captors and her persecutors with eyes of forgiveness. Can we say the same for ourselves?
Day 39 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Emancipation of all those enslaved; The ability to forgive those around us; Those struggling under the weight of sin or addition.
Requested Intentions: Priests and leaders of the Church (L).
Special Intentions: Novena to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, for those who are struggling in the face of personal trials and tribulations, unemployment and financial stress, natural disasters (including the poor of Haiti), poverty, war, and exploitation. May Our Lady of Prompt Succor hasten to help us!