Sunday, 14 November 2010

St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan

Today I want to tell you a story about another remarkable saint, St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan.  You can see the "icon" of her above.  The fancy head gear she is wearing was the traditional "veil" for the Canossian Sisters, an Italian congregation of sisters.  The wear a more traditional type of veil these days.  Now let me begin...

Bakhita (as I will call her) was born about 1869 to a locally important family in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.  At the age of 12, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders and over the course of the next 8 years was sold and re-sold five times in Arab slave markets.  The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name and the name "Bakhita" was the name given her by the slave traders.  It is the Arabic word for "lucky".  The name "Josephine" was the Christian name she took in adulthood.  During the 8 years of slavery, she was forcibly converted to Islam.

Bakhita suffered much brutality during her captivity as her owners saw slaves as less than human.  On one occasion she was beaten so badly that she had to spend a month lying on her straw bed, unable to move.  Her fourth owner, an Ottoman Army officer, marked her as his possession by a process resembling both scarification and tattooing.  More than sixty patterns were cut into her breasts, belly and arms (without any anesthesia, of course).

Her final owner was an Italian diplomat who had been serving in the Sudan.  He brought her to Italy where she became the nanny to the daughter of a close friend of the diplomat.  Bakhita and the daughter were left in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice while the parents were assigned to a distant area.  During this time, Bakhita discovered that she had a heavenly Father who loved her and asked to be baptized.

When the family of the child returned and went to collect their daughter as well as Bakhita, Bakhita refused to leave.  The family tried to force the issue, but the sisters complained to the authorities.  An Italian court ruled that since Sudan had outlawed slavery before Bakhita's birth, and, since in any case, Italian law did not recognize slavery, Bakhita had never in fact been a slave.  Since Bakhita had now reached the age to maturity, it was ruled that she had full control of her life and could remain with the Canossians.

In 1896, she joined the sisters permanently and spent the rest of her life assigned to various Canossian houses in Italy.  During her many years in the convent, Sr. Josephine was usually employed as portress (door keeper) of the house.  Her gentleness, calming voice and ever-present smile became well known.  She was eventually given an order by her congregation to write an account of her life.  This was published and became something of a best-seller.  She then began to receive requests to give talks about her experiences and gained a certain fame throughout Italy.

Her last years were marked by pain and sickness, but she always retained her cheerfulness and trust in God.  After her death in 1947, the calls for her canonization began immediately.  Finally, on October 1, 2000, she was canonized by Pope John Paul II and became Saint Josephine Bakhita.  Her feast day is February 8th, the date of her death.  She is venerated as a modern African saint and as a saint with a special relevance to slavery and oppression.  As well, she has been adopted by Sudanese Christians as the patron saint of Sudan.

At the moment of her death, her eyes were gazing upward as she smilingly cried out:  "Our Lady!  Our Lady!" 
[much of this information came from Wikipedia]

In recent years, an African image of Our Lady has been created and is now used in the churches in Sudan.  I find it extremely beautiful and would like to do my own version of it one of these days.

Here is a photograph of the interior of a small chapel of a mission house run by the Capuchin Friars of the Renewal, a modern Franciscan community founded in New York City to work with the street people (you can see that the images of St. Bakhita and Our Lady of Sudan are being used).  They already have a large enough community to have established mission houses in several countries.  This one is located in Torit (I think) which is, of course, in the region of Darfur in Sudan.  This mission has a blog which I subscribe to as it is both a fascinating yet frightening place for people to be as you know if you have heard almost any international news over the past 10 years!  If you are interested in their blog, go to

Now, turning to something much lighter, her are a few animal photos.  The theme of these pictures is to show how animals of different species are willing to groom -- neither the one grooming or the one being groomed seem to have any objections to this arrangement!

In this first picture, we see a monkey who appears to be checking his friend, the mountain goat, for fleas or ticks!  Monkey hands are certainly well adapted to such activities.  I would guess that the pay-off for the monkey is that she gets to eat whatever she finds!  Yum!

Here we see a bird (I am not sure what kind -- maybe a crow or a grackle) who appears to be cleaning the nose of a sheep.  It is obvious that the sheep could never clean its own nose so it must feel nice to have it all cleaned up; while the bird gets to keep whatever it finds in there -- including small pieces of grass seed or grains from the sheep feed.  Personally, I would just as soon not think about what the "crow" might be eating!

Finally, we have a rather strange situation as we don't normally see cows giving dogs a good face washing.  In fact, I would guess that maybe these two are close friends so that the dog doesn't object to this arrangement.  This situation is also different in that the cow doesn't appear to benefit in any tangible way from this effort.  I mean, the dog gets its face washed which is something the dog can't do on its own, but the cow's action seems almost altruistic -- sort of like doing something nice for a friend.  Who knows!

At Mass today I realized that next Sunday is the feast of Christ the King which means that the Sunday after that is the first Sunday of Advent.  For those of you who are not familiar with all this Catholic talk, let me explain.  There are four Sundays in Advent and then comes Christmas.  That is how close we already are to Christmas and the new year!  Have you made any preparations yet?  I haven't.  So, I had better get myself busy making a few Christmas cards for the special people in my life.

I hope that whoever reads this blog posting will be blessed by it and I pray that the peace of God may be with us all.

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