Despite the brutal legacy of the continent of Africa being divided, exploited, and its history of slavery from the West and neighboring Arabs, God rose up an incredible figure, St. Josephine Bakhita, to teach history a lesson. She is an African canonized saint and her story is one that is inspiring and has many dimensions of Christian character.
In brief, Josephine was of Sudanese background and spent much of her early to young adult life in brutal slavery. Her masters tortured her and even forced her to walk barefooted 600 miles! Since she was sold by different slave traders, consistency was never something she knew. Moreover, with the effects of slavery came the scars of abuse in which her body bore from her persecution.
Josephine was dropped off in Italy, which was to be a temporary situation, by her owners in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. While there she learned more about God and received a thorough understanding of the Christian faith. When her owners arrived to take her back, she refused to go.
The incident eventually went to the courts and they ruled that since slavery was abolished in Sudan prior to her birth she wasn’t bound to be a slave. Therefore she was free and chose to stay with the congregation of women and eventually became a baptized Catholic. She was known for her humble nature, holy conduct, and calm presence in her order.
When I look back over St. Josephine Bakhita’s life, I’m reminded of the reassuring verse from Romans 8:28 that says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Throughout the trials and sufferings of her life, you can see how God was drawing her closer and closer into fellowship with Him.
St. Josephine said that as a slave, she would look at the sky and wonder what person placed the majesty of the stars there. She wanted to meet this person and show devotion. Little did she know that He would invite her into His family.
Further, through her suffering, we see the love of God in an unconditional embrace in a time when Africans were completely affected by the impact of the slave trade and Scramble of Africa by European nations. Just another testament that the universal church has no preferences and as St. Peter said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 34-35).”
I love how God never ceases to claim a people for himself. God is all about redeeming people from horrible situations. Just as the Israelites were redeemed from Egyptian slavery, God has redeemed us through Jesus Christ. It’s by this that we’re sons and daughters of God. God, through the grace of the Church, led St. Josephine to a life of joy, love of God, and sanctity.
She once said: “If I 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.” This quote is loaded with many lessons for us. The major implication is one that our Lord taught us in Matthew 6:12 “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus doesn’t just call us to love those that love us. That’s too simple. Instead, he wants us to love those who have done everything to deserve no forgiveness.
Yes, forgiving others is hard to fathom, but think about the cruelty by St.Josephine’s traders. They were by far some of the most wicked but yet she was able to still offer forgiveness. Just think about how much sanctification we need to undergo to achieve such a standard as her.
And that’s what being a new creation is, dying to yourself and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform you. Being made more in the image of God isn’t easy but He is faithful at giving the grace to sanctify our lives.
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