Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita—Feb. 8

 

Many people don’t know the story of Josephine Bakhita, but it’s one that should be told and retold. Born in 1869, she was captured by slave traders at the age of nine, and would never see her family again. One particular torture stands out in a list of horrors. Pinned to the ground, Josephine was cut with a razor in over sixty places. Salt was rubbed into the cuts to prevent healing and leave more visible scars, which increased the profits to slave masters when they were sold. She was then left on a mat for three months, without any care. Her only comment? “I thought I would die.”

Fortunately, she was later sold in the Khartoum market to an Italian diplomatic family, and accompanied their child to school in Italy.  Learning the Christian religion there changed her life dramatically. When the family ordered her to return with them to Africa, she refused. It caused an international crisis, but she remained adamant: “I can’t risk losing God.” Finally, she remained, free because slavery was illegal in Italy.

The former slave continued to marvel she was a daughter of God, and eventually became a sister, where she served the community as cook, seamstress and doorkeeper. To children who’d never met an African, she reassured, “I’m made of chocolate!” Steadily, she endured two world wars, humbly and faithfully warming plates in winter to make sure her dishes arrived hot and tasty. Her attitude toward her captors was, “Poor things! They did not know God.” “Survivor” is a term glibly tossed around on reality TV shows, but Bakhita gives the words new meaning—and redefines forgiveness.

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