Sister Guiseppina Margarita Bakhita spent forty-five years of her life as the porteress for the Canossian sisters in a little convent in Italy. The chair and little place she sat to open the door for all those seeking is still there today. It seems very fitting that she spent so many years opening doors as she had spent the first years of her life seeking the door to God. Jesus, of course promised that all those who seek will find, and so she did.
She was born in Darfur in the Sudan, but, as is still the case, the rulers were slavers and one day the slavers came to her village and violently captured her and took her away from her family.
She was a little child and now she was plunged into a world of torture and misuse and her owners treated her with contempt. One of her owners beat her so badly she nearly died, then she was sold on. A Turkish General bought her for his wife. By this point the girl, who had no memory of the name her parents had given her, had been named Bakhita, which means “fortunate one,” The General’s wife had the 13 yr old girl tattooed that is a woman came and cut the little girl 114 times, rubbing flour and salt into each cut to make the scar as pronounced as possible. Her body was covered, only her face was left.
Despite the sheer horror of her life Bakhita continued to seek and hope that somewhere she would find truth, meaning and the God of these things. Her prayers were heard and she was bought by the Italian consul Callisto Legnani. His plan was to have her freed, but war was brewing as the Arab factions struggled over who was to take over Sudan. Legnani and all the Italians had to leave Africa quickly, so he handed Bakhita over to a friend whose Orthodox wife was expecting a baby. When the baby girl was born they named her Minima and Bakhita became her nurse,
Finally the family were able to leave Africa and taking Bakhita with them they arrived in Italy. Minima was now old enough for school, and her parents had to leave and travel for business. Minnima was to be taken into the care of the Canossian sisters, and Bakhita was to go with her.
Here, at last the young woman found what she had been seeking all her life. She was astonished to see a crucifix and asked the sisters who the man was. They told her all about Jesus and Bakhita realised with joy, that she had found Him. She asked to be baptised and took the name Josephine, or in Italian Guiseppina.
When Minima’s parents returned to Italy the mother wanted both her daughter and Josephine back, but by now Josephine wanted to enter religious life.
Sadly, as the wife could not accept that the young woman had a right to decide her own life, the situation was taken to court. Keeping slaves was not allowed in Italian law and so finally Josephine was given her freedom and she went back to the Canossian sisters and asked to be admitted to their order.
So it was that she became Sister Guiseppina Margarita Bakhita and considered herself very fortunate after all. Her health had suffered because of all the tortures she had suffered as a slave, so she was given the role as porteress. She had a lot to do with all the local children who named her “la nostra madre moretta” which means “Our little brown mother.”
Josephine forgave those who had owned and tormented her. She forgave them even though the results of their treatment was her ill health.
She lived through the wars that rocked the world, and must have been deeply wounded to see her adopted country taken by Mussolini to support National Socialism, Hitler and the terrible war.
On 8th February 1947 God called His daughter home.
Ven Pope John Paul the Great canonised her on 1st October 2000 and she has been adopted as the Patron saint of Sudan.