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!” Steadfastly, 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.
Appropriately the patron saint for victims of human trafficking, Bakhita’s feast offers the opportunity to publicize the hot line: 1-888-373-7888, National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Anyone who suspects something amiss can be as heroic as the woman who tried to look out the window of her flight as it descended. Instead, she was shocked to see a text conversation on another passenger’s phone that alarmed her. In large print, a man was arranging videos of sex acts with two children aged 5 and 7. Quickly and discreetly snapping photos, the concerned passenger then alerted the flight attendant, who confirmed that airlines were actively engaged in combating sex trafficking. She in turn arranged to have the police and FBI meet the flight; they probed and subsequently arrested the sender and recipient of the texts. Detectives freed the children and prevented further harm. Bakhita would be proud.
Retreat led by Kathy Coffey: “Those Feisty Gospel Women”
San Damiano Center, 710 Highland Dr., Danville, CA (925)-837-9141
www.sandamiano.org March 27-29, 2020