Thursday, February 08, 2007

Nobody knew the name her parents called her

not even her.

Today's saint, who would come to be called Giuseppine Bakhita, was born in a totally average family in rural Darfur, Sudan in 1869, and was kidnapped by slavers at about eight years old. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita --- which means "fortunate, lucky". At the time that was a sick joke. She was sold repeatedly to various owners in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, and suffered all the standard evils, physical (beatings, malnutrition, neglect, scarification....), mental (forbidden to learn and "kept in her place"....), and moral (rape, molestation, coercion to service owner's sexual whims....).

Eventually, in her early teens, she was bought by an Italian diplomat and his wife to be an housemaid and cook. As owners go, these weren't very bad at all. They did not use the whip when giving orders. They would show her how they wanted things to be done. Neither of them insisted on sexual services. About as good as one could expect an owner to be. When the diplomat was recalled to Italy, Bakhita begged not to be sold, but to go with them. (Who could tell how the next owner would be?) So she went to Italy with them.

The diplomat's wife's best friend had a baby, a little girl named Mimmina, and Bakhita was given to the friend to be a babysitter-companion for the newborn. That family wasn't bad either. When Mimmina got to be school aged, her parents placed her in a boarding school run by the Cannossian Daughters of Charity, and Bakhita, of course, went with her as a maidservant. Expected to stay with Mimmina at all times, she began to learn the lessons Mimmina was being taught, reading and writing and arithmetic --- and, the Christian Faith, the first that Bakhita had ever heard it. Bakhita came to believe almost immediately, and eagerly sought even more instruction in the faith, and she was enrolled in the catechumenate. She also began to sense the first glimmerings of a calling to the religious life.

After a time, Mimmina's parents received an overseas diplomatic posting, and went to the boarding school to withdraw their daughter and take her, and, they totally presumed, Bakhita also, to their new African posting. But, Bakhita refused to go. She wanted to stay, and get baptised, and keep learning. With the backing of the Sisters, some of the Sisters' benefactors, and the local Catholic authorities, Bakhita's case to disobey her owners went to court, and it was ruled that, since slavery was illegal in Italy, that as soon as Bakhita was brought to Italy she was made free. Soon after, in January of 1890, she was baptised with the new name Giuseppine, and she remained under instruction at the school for several more years.

After a period of prayer and discernment, Giuseppine Bakhita entered the community of the Cannossian Daughters, making her vows in 1896. She served in the community as a seamstress and cook, and as the doorkeeper, and became noted as an intercessor. After her memoirs of her slavery days were published, she spend years on tour speaking to raise money for her community's missions. Eventually, her health declined, and she died on this date in 1947.


Mimi said...

Fascinating Hagiography, thank you.
Holy Saint Giuseppine, pray to God for us.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know she was that recent. I mean, I didn't know she died in 1947.

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