On All Saint’s Day, a day which honours all saints of the Catholic Church, we would like to draw attention to St Josephine Bakhita.
Chosen as the Patron Saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking with a Feast Day celebrated on 8 February, St Josephine Bakhita was 8 years old when she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders in 1877. Taken from her home in Sudan, she was renamed Bakhita (which means ‘fortunate’) and sold several times in the city of El-Obeid. Many of her owners treated her with inhumane cruelty, including beatings that left her unable to walk and horrific attacks of whipping and scarring.
In 1883, Bakhita was sold to a kind man—the Italian Consul to Sudan, Callisto Legnani. When he had to return to Italy, he brought Bakhita with him and gave her to the Michieli family. Bakhita was a faithful nanny to the Michieli family’s young daughter.
In 1888, Bakhita and her young charge went to stay with the Canossian Sisters in Venice while the Michieli family was away on business. While staying with the Canossians, Bakhita was instructed in the Christian faith. When the Michieli family returned Bakhita refused to go back to them. The Michielis appealed to the courts, but Bakhita’s freedom was upheld.
Bakhita was baptised and received the new name of Josephine in 1890. Three years later, she entered the Canossian novitiate. After a life spent in slavery with no stable home, Josephine was assigned to the Canossian convent in Schio and remained there for the rest of her life.
St Josephine not only forgave her captors, but she also expressed her gratitude to them because God used their cruelty to lead her into the Catholic faith and consecrated life.
As we honour St Josephine Bakhita, we must also keep in our thoughts all those affected by the crimes of modern slavery and human trafficking and the people that volunteer and work to eradicate this crime.
As the largest non-government procurer of goods and services in Australia, the Catholic Church is in a particularly strong position to bring about long-term change in this area across the health, education, and welfare sectors. CatholicCare Sydney is a participant in the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network and commits to addressing all potential risks of modern slavery and preserving human dignity.