Black History Month: Honoring Saint Josephine Bakhita

February 11, 2014

HOUSTON — Saint Josephine Bakhita, a former slave born in Sudan in 1869, draws hearts to her as she is recognized as a model to be venerated as a modern Saint. 

Her life gives hope to all as a statement against the brutal history of slavery, especially in February when the U.S. celebrates Black History Month. 
The events and sorrowful episodes of this young girl, who was kidnapped at an early age, tend to give hope that those suffering even today through human trafficking will also experience the freedom of God’s love for them through it all.

Bakhita was bought and sold at least five times during her 14 years of slavery. Even in the “caravan of slaves” that were victims of human wickedness, Bakhita wanted that interminable journey to end so that she could learn what was in store for her. 

Saint Josephine Bakhita said: “How could the Lord have chosen just me? I wonder.”

Before taking her official vows with the Canossian Sisters after she was eventually moved to Italy, the new Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, and future Pope and Saint Pius X, Giuseppe Sarto told her: “Take your vows, without fear. Jesus loves you. Love Him and serve Him always, as you have done up to now.”

Sixty-seven years after her death on Feb. 8, 1947, popes continued to recognize why Bakhita was “chosen.”

Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1959 commenced the canonization process for Bakhita. In 1978, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared Bakhita Venerable; beatified her in May 1992, and canonized her on Oct. 1, 2000. 

Pope Benedict XVI, in the beginning of his Second Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved), related Saint Josephine Bakhita’s life story as an outstanding example of Christian hope. 

Pope Benedict noted in his letter that Bakhita, from the time she took her religious vows, not only worked “ the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people.”

In 2013, Pope Francis directed two Vatican Academies to study the problem of human trafficking. 

Pope Francis reportedly welcomes the suggestion of making Bakhita the patron saint of this present-day global scourge. And Feb. 8, her feast day, has been designated by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking.

A Sacred Relic of Saint Josephine Bakhita rests in the altar of Our Mother of Africa Chapel in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Saint Josephine Bakhita is at home and honored in unique ways, too.

The Saint Josephine Bakhita Fellowship Hall at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church was dedicated on May 5, 2002.

In December 2013, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo blessed the icons in All Saints Church, including the icon of Saint Josephine Bakhita.