St. Josephine Bakhita, Patron Saint of Sudan and human trafficking survivors

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Today, February 8, is the International Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking. It is also the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron of trafficking victims and the patron of her home country of Sudan. In 2000, the same year the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the first comprehensive federal law to address trafficking, passed in the United States, Bakhita was canonized as patron saint by Pope John Paul II. At the mass, Pope John Paul II said that, in St. Josephine Bakhita, we find

“a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.”

Capella Papale for the Canonization of 123 Saints, Homily of John Paul II; Sunday 1 October 2000.

Brief History

St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders when she was 8 years old. Over the next six years she was beaten, tortured, and scarred until she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legani, who took her with him back to Italy. While in Italy, she was given to a family and became their nanny, and that family eventually left her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice when they traveled to Sudan for business.

While with the sisters, she decided to become Catholic. When the family who enslaved her returned to Italy, she refused to return to their home, seeking legal freedom. An Italian court ruled in her favor, and she remained with the Canossians, receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy communion. She professed her final vows and lived out the remainder of her life in a convent in Vicenza. She passed away on February 8, 1947, and was canonized on October 1, 2000, by St. John Paul II.

At her canonization, the Pope’s appealed that we as people do more and be better, which still rings true regardless of our religious affiliations, and inspires the Catholic practice of prayers on St. Josephine Bakhita’s Feast Day each year.

Do you know of any other symbols of anti-trafficking work in your communities or other religious practices? Let us know in the comments.

See the Pope’s remarks on St Bakhita at her canonization below.

“My thoughts turn to the new saint’s country, which has been torn by a cruel war for the past 17 years, with little sign of a solution in sight. In the name of suffering humanity I appeal once more to those with responsibility:  open your hearts to the cries of millions of innocent victims and embrace the path of negotiation. I plead with the international community:  do not continue to ignore this immense human tragedy. I invite the whole Church to invoke the intercession of St Bakhita upon all our persecuted and enslaved brothers and sisters, especially in Africa and in her native Sudan, that they may know reconciliation and peace.”

Capella Papale for the Canonization of 123 Saints, Homily of John Paul II; Sunday 1 October 2000.

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