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Out of Africa

8 Feb

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (1868-1947), an African saint who was canonized in 2000 by Blessed John Paul II. I really didn’t know that much about her, other than the fact that she was from the Sudan, had been kidnapped in youth, and eventually became a religious in Italy.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that Pope Benedict XVI talked about St. Josephine at length in his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi. Here is what the Holy Father had to say about her:

“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II.

“She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

“Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying ‘masters’ who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of ‘master’—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name ‘paron’ for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a ‘paron’ above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her—that He actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme ‘Paron,’ before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved, and she was awaited. Continue reading