Today, we honour the Sudanese woman who was snatched as a child by Arab slave traders. At roughly the age of seven, she was so traumatised that she couldn't even remember her name, and thus was called, "Bakhita," meaning "lucky one." That perverse attempt at humour held a kernal of truth, for she found the One True God through her ordeal.
I offer here a couple paragraphs from my own book, which included a section on Sister Josephine's amazing journey:
It was her fifth owner, the Italian consul at Karthoum, who first showed her kindness and ultimately brought her to Europe, where she discovered Christ. While taking care of the young daughter of a family there, she was introduced to the Canossan Sisters with whom she eventually found a home as a religious sister. Fifty years of quiet consecrated life allowed her to witness to others the deep abiding peace that faith and forgiveness can bring. Seeing God’s hand even in the difficult path of her life, she noted, “If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I'd kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman.” At her beatification, Pope John Paul II praised her as “Our Universal Sister,” pointing out that she offers us “a message of reconciliation and evangelic forgiveness in a world so much divided and hurt by hatred and violence.” Note that Bakhita didn’t say that what the slave traders and her owners did to her was right – it most certainly was not. But she recognized that through her wounds she found salvation, which she could not ignored.
There are many forms of slavery, including those that do not have visible chains or leave outward marks. We suffer from them as long as we cannot name them, claim our own dignity which comes from being created in the image and likeness of God, and renounce them from holding us captive. The liberation that forgiveness can offer is as stark as the sundering of iron fetters and the opening of a prison door—it is for the one who suffers to choose freedom and wholeness of heart, despite her surroundings. The graces of God are available to all even in the darkest hours and each cross bears within it the seeds of Easter for those who cling to Christ.
Sadly enough, slavery has never ended, but has only grown and adopted new disguises:
Slavery still exists today. Whether it is called human trafficking, bonded labor, forced labor, or sex trafficking, it is present worldwide, including within the United States and, increasingly, in your local community.
An estimated 12 - 27 million people are caught in one or another form of slavery. Between 600,000 and 800,000 are trafficked internationally, with as many as 17,500 people trafficked into the United States. Nearly three out of every four victims are women. Half of modern-day slaves are children.
That all may find this peace despite what they've suffered, and that we all find ways to shed light on this ongoing tragedy. Saint Bakhita, pray for us!