St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Darfur, Sudan. As a child, she was kidnapped while working in the fields with her family and sold into slavery. When her kidnappers asked for her name, she was too scared to tell them, so they called her “Bakhita,” meaning “fortunate” in Arabic.
The early parts of Bakhita’s life were not so fortunate. She was tortured by many of her owners, branded, beaten, and cut. In her biography, she recalled one particular incident where her master cut her 114 times, pouring salt on the wounds to ensure they would scar.
Although she did not know about Christ or Christianity, Bakhita suffered valiantly. She wrote that even then, she marveled at the world and the being who created it. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.”
Bakhita was sold five times before she was purchased by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in the capital of Sudan. After a few years, he sent her to Italy to work as a nanny for his college August Michieli. Michieli had Bakhita accompany his daughter to a school run by Canossian sisters in Venice.
There Bakhita learned more about the Church, and was baptized with the name Josephine Margaret. When Michieli tried to take Josephine and his daughter back to Sudan, Josephine refused. The courts eventually ruled that Josephine was a free woman and could stay in Italy, because slavery was not recognized in Italy, and had been illegal in Sudan since before Josephine was born.
In 1893, Josephine entered the Canossian order. After she made her profession, she went to northern Italy to live in a community and teach others about God’s love.
St. Josephine was known for her gentleness and her holiness. She once said that if she “were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”
St. Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. She was the first Sudanese saint, and the patron saint of the country.