Many saints are known for their harrowing and unbelievable stories. For many, converting to Christianity and finding Christ was not a straight and narrow path. Rather, the road to sainthood and Christ is often paved with complexity, ambiguity, and challenges. For Josephine Bakhita, this path was also paved with great personal suffering. While not often discussed, St. Josephine’s story is truly inspiring. When one learns about her life prior to Christ and the atrocities committed against her, it would be understandable to assume she never would put faith in God. However, just the opposite is true. Keep reading to learn more about this holy woman and her unconventional path to Christ.
Josephine was born in 1869 in Sudan. Her uncle was the chief of the Daju tribe, placing Josephine and her family in a very comfortable position. That being said, Josephine had a very happy childhood at the start. However, at the young age of eight, Josephine was kidnapped by local slave traders. Taken from the comfort and love of her family, Josephine was forced to walk hundreds of miles to various slave trade markets. This marked the beginning of the 12 year period she would be a slave.
During this time, she was traded to dozens of families. Because of her rapid transfers, it’s been said that Josephine forgot her actual name. While some of her owners were kinder than others, Josephine suffered through several awful households.
One owner was especially cruel. He was a Turkish general who bought Josephine to be a maid for his wife. This mistress made it her intention to hurt Josephine in as many ways as possible. The mistress would trace patterns on Josephine’s back, then carve into these patterns with a knife, rubbing in salt soon after to ensure the carvings scarred. In her writings, Josephine states that as soon as one wound healed, they would open another one. In the end, Josephine accumulated over 113 scars from this household. Just when Josephine believed she couldn’t bear any more suffering, she was traded to a kinder owner. The year was now 1883, and Josephine traveled with her new owner across the Red Sea to Italy. This owner did not beat her. In fact, when the owner (an Italian consulate) had business in Sudan, instead of bringing Josephine with him for the rough journey, he placed her in the care of the Canossian Sisters of Venice.
During her time with the sisters, Josephine learned more about God. While she had heard of God and His creation of the Universe before, she had no personal or intimate relationship with Him. As she began to learn more and more, she developed a deep love for Christ. This led to her ultimate discernment of religious life. There was, however, a problem. When Josephine’s master returned, he still claimed ownership of her, and demanded that she leave the convent and return home to work. She resisted these demands, and with the help of the sisters was able to file a formal case against him. As it turned out, slavery was illegal in Sudan at the time of Josephine’s kidnapping. Therefore, Josephine was a free woman.
Josephine stayed with the sisters. She was baptized on January 9, 1890 with the name Josephine Margaret Fortunata. Fortunata is the Latin version of her birth name Bakhita. She became a Novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1893 and she took her final vows in 1896. She stayed with the sisters throughout the rest of her life, helping as a cook and doorkeeper within the convent. She also traveled and prepared other convents for missionary work in Africa.
Josephine was known for her very kind and gentle nature. Even after enduring a life filled with such hardship and great physical and emotional anguish, she found the courage to publicly thank her kidnappers for ultimately bringing her to Christ. While there are few documented miracles attributed to Josephine, the Italian village of Schio claims to have been under her protection during World War II. While the village was severely bombed, not a single person died.
Toward the end of her life, Josephine was confined to a wheel chair. Despite this hindrance, she still maintained her joyful demeanor, simply saying her life was “as the heavenly Master desires.” She would pass away on February 8, 1947. In 1992 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and she was canonized in 2000, also by Pope John Paul II.
Josephine’s story truly highlights that the road to Christ is often filled with trials and sorrows. Sometimes in order to grow closer to Him, we must understand to some extent the pain and suffering He endured on the cross. It is also by living through this pain and finding Christ in spite of it that we can truly appreciate the gifts and blessings He bestows on us all. If you find yourself struggling with sorrow in your life, say a quick prayer to Saint Josephine. As someone who endured such suffering, she may offer help, guidance, and comfort during our most difficult times here on earth.
Information gathered from: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=7339
Post written by Katie Karpinski