On this day in 1947, Bakhita, first native of the Sudan to be beatified, died. Her story is not well known, but it should be.
Born in 1869, she was kidnapped from her family at the age of nine, and sold into slavery. It was customary for slaveholders to tattoo slaves because it increased the master’s prestige and profits. The young girl was pinned to the ground, then a witch cut her with a razor in over sixty places. Salt was rubbed into the cuts because it would prevent healing and leave more visible scars. Bakhita’s only comment about the excruciating pain? “I thought I would die.”
She was left on a mat for three months, unable to move. But later an Italian diplomat bought her in the Khartoum market and took her to Italy. There she accompanied his children to school and learned about Christianity from the Sisters of Charity of Canossa. Ordered to return to Africa, she refused: “I can’t risk losing God.” That prompted a diplomatic battle, but because slavery was illegal in Italy, her former master had no hold on her.
“Here I became a daughter of God,” she said, drawn to a loving, suffering Christ. Traumatized before most girls get a driver’s permit, she could never stop marveling that she was important and precious to God. With that assurance, she could forgive those who scarred her body: “poor things! They did not know God.” She joined the Canossa convent and became a cook who warmed the plates in winter so her meals would arrive hot and tasty.
To those who had never met an African, she reassured, “I am made of chocolate.” She was sweet to children, the poor and sick, but once challenged seminarians, “Become saints, for God’s sake!” Now the patron saint of trafficked children, she teaches us to forgive. A survivor of two world wars, she became known as “Madre Moretta,” the Black Mother, revered by Italians and Africans.
From Women of Mercy by Kathy Coffey and Michael O’Neill McGrath
Thanks so much for this memorial.