Modern Day Saint
1869 -- 1947
Bakhita was not her real name. No one knows what the little African girl’s mother called her. Born in eastern Sudan, the child was captured by slave traders when she was about eight or nine years old. Her captors renamed her ‘Bakhita’, an Arabic name meaning ‘lucky one’. Being a slave most of her young life would make you think she was anything but lucky; however, Bakhita considered herself lucky because it was due to these circumstances she learned of God and choose Him as her real Master.
Bakhita was born in the heart of Africa in a very typical African village consisting of a few round huts with thatched roofs constructed in a circle around a meeting area for the village. Her happy and affectionate family was comparatively well off possessing cattle and plantations. She had several brothers and sisters. They practiced a primitive African religion, believing in a mysterious presence, a transcendent power with human qualities permeating every object, whether animate or inanimate. The spirits of the dead were profoundly revered. They held much respect for the elderly and the unborn, as they were believed to be closer to the spirits of the dead. She once wrote, “As a child, when I contemplated the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the beautiful things of nature, I was wondering, “Who is the master of it all?” and I felt a desire to see Him, to know Him, and to pay Him homage.”
Then, as well as today, a terrible slave trade was being carried on in the Sudan. Kidnappers would raid villages while the men were in the fields and carry off the young to be sold as slaves. Bakhita escaped one such raid, but was later captured when walking along a forest path with an older friend. The kidnappers sold her to a slave trader. She later escaped but was captured by another slave trader. She was soon sold to an Arab chief. All during this time she witnessed and was part of heartbreaking cruelty toward the slaves. An example is the treatment she received by the Arab chief’s son. At one time he punished her so badly it took a month for her to heal. After her recovery, she was sold to a Turkish general to serve his mother and wife. The wife insisted on having the slaves tattooed, as was the custom at that time. Sixty-six patterns were carved on her body and 48 on her arm. All were cut deeply with a razor and rubbed with salt to ensure scar tissue. She was held down on the ground during the procedure, and the pain was so bad she passed out.
After two years, the general had to return home to Turkey. He therefore sold Bakhita to an agent at the Italian Consul. The agent treated her well and after much pleading from Bakhita he even took her with him when he had to return to Italy. It was here that the agent gave his slave to a friend who was in need of a nursemaid for her daughter. Years passed and Bakhita and her mistress were again living in Sudan when the mistress decided that the daughter was to be educated by the Canossian Sisters in Venice, Italy. The Sisters agreed to take Bakhita as well. This was her first encounter with the Catholic faith. At last Bakhita was able to learn all of the truths her heart had always hungered to know.
When it came time for the daughter and Bakhita to return to Sudan, the mistress ordered Bakhita to return with her. Bakhita did not. She insisted on remaining with the Sisters. As slavery was not legal in Italy she was allowed to stay as a free person. Even though she was grateful to her mistress she had to refuse her request.
The saintly sisters taught her who was the real master of all. On January 9, 1890, “with a joy that only the angels could describe,” the African slave girl became a royal child of God. She was confirmed that same day. She remained in the Catechumenate for four more years, studying, praying and performing household tasks. At that time she had made up her mind she wanted to become a Sister. Even though all the Sisters were Italian, Bakhita asked to be accepted into the order. She was accepted and loved by all.
The poor and lowly slave girl took her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on December 8, 1896. This time for love and with a new Master. She remained a humble and devout Sister holding many different positions. In 1902 she was transferred to Schio, Italy where the Sisters had a boarding school for girls, an orphanage, held catechism classes, conducted home economics classes, and various other works of charity. During the two wars in Italy, the school was converted to a military hospital and Bakhita worked as a nurse. The good African sister radiated something of the supernatural. She was dignified, modest and retiring, yet she had the courage to reprove the soldiers and even their officers when they spoke or acted unbecomingly. She would urge whomever she met to be good and to praise God’s kindness and glory. Her words were few and simple, but went home to one and all, even to non-religious people.
In 1935, unable to return and be a missionary in Sudan, she was asked to make a talking tour in Italy to help the African missions. At one time Bakhita wrote, “When people hear my story, they keep saying, “Poor thing, poor thing.” I am not a ‘poor thing’. I belong to the Master; I am living in His house. It is those who are not wholly the Lord’s who are the ‘poor things’. If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.” Bakhita’s astonishing Christian forgiveness was the flowering of an intense natural goodness and virtue. Bakhita was well loved by all those that knew her.
Since her death in 1947, many well-documented miracles have been attributed to her. She was canonized in the year 2000. She is the beacon of light to those Sudanese where religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, slavery, rape, man-made famine, jihad (holy war), and forced Arabization and Islamization of the non-Arab and non-Muslim population are the order of the day. In addition of all these evils and horrors, they have another cross to bear, namely the indifference of the Western media to the plight of the African people.
Let us pray that Saint Bakhita will motivate missionaries and many of our silent ‘Christian’ nations to come to the aid of the African people in Sudan.
The above was taken from the book St. Bakhita from African Slave to Servant of the “Good Master” by Ann M. Brown. Published by St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community. Call 270-325-3061 for a copy. Ask for stock #3020. Cost $3.
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