Saint Josephine Bakhita (ca. 1869 –1947) was born in Sudan and was one of the daughters of the village chief’s brother. Around the age of seven, she was kidnapped by Muslim slave traders and sold into slavery. Her first owner was a rich Arab who used her as a slave for his two daughters. These were kind to her but once their angered brother threw her down and kicked her so severely that she was bed ridden for several days. Her fourth owner was a Turkish general stationed in Khartoum. He made her a servant to his cruel wife and mother-in-law. Saint Josephine would later recall that not a day would go by without her receiving a beating from them. They also forced her to undergo an extremely painful marking process where cuts would be made in her skin and salt poured into them to ensure the formation of scars. Her fortunes changed, however, in 1883, when she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul in Khartoum, who treated her with kindness and respect. Fearing the prospect of another cruel owner, Saint Josephine Bakhita begged to accompany him to Italy when his time of service in Sudan had ended. The consul granted her wish and, in Italy, made her a household servant and nanny to his daughter Alice.
In November 1888, Saint Josephine and her charge, the young Alice, went to stay some months with the Canossian Sisters, in Venice. Here, Saint Josephine Bakhita was instructed in the faith and grew to understand that the Master and Creator of the beautiful things she appreciated in nature, and whom she had longed to know, was Our Lord Jesus. She also found in the life of the convent fulfilment of this longing she had had for God. When the time came to return home, some months later, she therefore refused to leave the convent. A legal battle then ensued between her and the vice consul who did not want to let her go. Since slavery was illegal in Italy, and because the British had also made it illegal in Sudan from a time predating her birth, it was declared, in November 1889, that Saint Josephine was a free woman and could stay at the convent.
Saint Josephine entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters in 1893 and made her vows in 1896. She was eventually assigned to the convent at Schio, in northern Italy, where she spent 42 years. There, she served as cook, sacristan and portress. She was gentle and cheerful as she went about her daily tasks, and was well loved by both the religious community and the townspeople. In her later years, she suffered from various illnesses and was wheelchair bound but lost none of her cheerfulness. Her last words were, “I am so happy! Our Lady…Our Lady.” She died in 1947 and her funeral was attended by thousands of people.
Saint Josephine Bakhita was canonised in the year 2000 by Pope Saint John Paul II. She is the patroness of Sudan and human trafficking survivors.