Posted on 07/29/2008

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Saint Guiseppine
Josephine Bakhita
For Riva
Daughters of Charity
Canossian Sisters

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Josephine Bakhita

Josephine Bakhita
Also known as Saint Guiseppine

[b. 1869 - d. 1947]

Guiseppine ( Josephine ) Bakhita was born in Sudan, Africa to a loving, and prosperous family. At nine, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery, where a series of owners humiliated, tortured and mutilated her. Later in life, in a marvelous first-person narrative she had written, Bakhita described some of the horrors her slavery entailed. "One day I unwittingly made a mistake that incensed the master's son. He became furious, snatched me violently from my hiding place, and began to strike me ferociously with the lash and his feet. Finally he left me half dead, completely unconscious. Some slaves carried me away and lay me on a straw mat, where I remained for over a month." Sold to a Turkish general, his mistresses’ daily dealt her punishment by whips and beatings. At 13, Bakhita underwent the excruciating ordeal of tattooing. "A woman skilled in this cruel art came to the general's house...”our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor ... When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds ... My face was spared, but 6 patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds ... it was by a miracle of God I didn't die. He had destined me for better things."

Between 1883-85, Bakhita was sold twice more, and was taken to Italy to be a nursemaid for her mistress' child. There the child, named Mimmina, was enrolled in a boarding school run by the Daughters of Charity ("Canossian Sisters"). Bakhita began to learn about the Catholic faith, and the tender mercies of a gentle God who loved her. "I was expected to stay with Mimmina; thus I enjoyed the opportunity to be instructed in the Christian faith ... the saintly sisters helped me know God, whom I had experienced in my heart since childhood I had asked who could be the master of the sun, moon, stars - now at last I knew Him!" When Mimmina's mother came to take her back to Africa, Bakhita announced her intention to stay with the sisters, be baptized and have an opportunity to practice her new faith. Despite her mistress' anger over this, the Superior enlisted the Cardinal and King's Procurator to declare that, since slavery in Italy was illegal, Bakhita was truly free. Baptized in January 1890, she took the name Guiseppine (Josephine) and remained in the catechumen ate for 4 more years, "during which I could hear more and more clearly the gentle voice of the Lord, urging me to consecrate myself to God."

After prayer and discernment, Guiseppine (Josephine) joined the religious order, pronouncing her religious vows on December 8, 1896 at the age of 41. Though her memoirs stop there, Guiseppine (Josephine) lived to be 78, her life marked by simplicity - she was a cook, seamstress, sacristan and doorkeeper. She used to tell the teachers in the community "You teach catechism, I will stay in the chapel and pray for you that you may teach well." Guiseppine (Josephine's) goodness and spiritual authority impressed many people. One priest, who observed her caring for victims of World War I, and speaking bluntly about things amiss, remarked, "That African Sister is goading me on in my ministry!" After a biography about her was published in 1930, Guiseppine (Josephine) became a celebrity - speaking requests, travel engagements and fund-raising for the Order took her time. Though her health gradually worsened, forcing her into a wheelchair, she remained a model of holiness and charity. A sister asked her once "Do you wish to go to heaven?" She answered, "I neither wish to go nor to stay. God knows where to find me when he wants me!"

Sister Josephine Bakhita died February 8, 1947. She lay in state for three days, and mourners noticed that her limbs remained flexible. Mothers lifted her hands and placed them on the heads of their children, praying for her blessing. Large crowds followed her hearse to the cemetery. A woman of immense faith and forgiveness, she was beatified in May 1992 as "blessed" in the Catholic canon of saints.


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