Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself, ‘Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?’ I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage. –St. Josephine Bakhita
Today’s “Focus on Black” post comes because I was a little surprised to learn that many people I spoke with could not name one Black saint, though even if not Catholic, they knew the names of European saints. Indeed, the only individuals I spoke to who knew about Black saints were two students who attended Catholic primary and secondary schools.
So, though there are many Black saints, today I’m introducing you to St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), Patron Saint of the Sudan.
We know very little about Bakhita’s early life, but she was born into a prominent family in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Her path to sainthood began with terror:
She and a friend were walking through a field in her native Sudan when she was abducted by armed slave traders. She was so terrified upon capture that she forgot her name. The slavers called her “Bakhita,” which means fortunate.
Bakhita endured terrible cruelty at the hands of a succession of owners. Her fortunes truly changed when she was
purchased by Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who treated her with kindness and respect. Legani left her with a friend, Augusto Michieli, and his wife in Italy. Bakhita served as caretaker of their newborn daughter, Mimmina. When business required the Michielis to travel, they entrusted the girls to the Canossia Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. There, Bakhita came to understand the God who had given her the fortitude to overcome the hardships of slavery. After several months, she received the sacraments of initiation and was given the name Josephine. She remained with the Sisters and served as a nun for the rest of her life, beloved for her kindness to children and visitors to the Institute. When she died her body was displayed for several days as thousands came to pay their respects. –from 365 Days of Black History, I Only Know the Story
St. Josephine Bakhita, the first saint of Sudan, was canonized–made a saint–on October 1, 2000.
At her canonization ceremony, Pope John II said of her:
In today’s world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.
To learn more, see:
For more black saints, see:
Until next time…