Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in the village of Olgossa in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was a member of the Daju people and her uncle was a tribal chief. Due to her family lineage, she grew up happy and relatively prosperous, saying that as a child, she did not know suffering. Historians believe that sometime in February 1877, Josephine was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She was only eight years old.
Over the next ten or so years, she was sold or given away to many different and cruel masters and mistresses. She was severely beaten which would often incapacitate her for days. Eventually she was sold to an Italian master who took her with him to Italy. By that time she had been so abused and deliberately scarred no fewer than 114 times. She was finally placed in the custody of the Canossian Sisters by her master while the family she served made a trip to her homeland, Sudan.
While she was in the custody of the sisters, she came to learn about God. According to Josephine, she had always known about God, who created all things, but she did not know who He was. The sisters answered her questions. She was deeply moved by her time with the sisters and discerned a call to follow Christ. When her mistress returned from Sudan, Josephine refused to leave. Her mistress spent three days trying to persuade her to leave the sisters, but Josephine remained steadfast. This caused the superior of the institute for baptismal candidates among the sisters to complain to Italian authorities on Josephine's behalf. The case went to court, and the court found that slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before Josephine was born, so she could not be lawfully made slave. She was declared free.
For the first time in her life, Josephine was free and could choose what to do with her life. She chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters. She was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata. (Fortunata is the Latin translation for her Arabic name, Bakhita). She also received the sacraments of her first Holy Communion and confirmation on the same day. The Archbishop who gave her the sacraments was none other than Giusseppe Sarto, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, who would later become Pope Pius X. She then made the decision to join the Canossian Sisters as a novice. For the next forty-two years, she served as a cook and housekeeper.
Today the Church prays for all the victims of human trafficking. This day was specifically chosen because of the Memorial of St. Josephine that we keep today. The scourge of human trafficking has not diminished in the least over the years and is today still enslaving thousands. May our prayers this day awaken the minds and hearts of the world to bring an end to this abominable crime against humanity.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator