It is the 8th of February 2024 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
10 years ago, a group representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration and Refugee Services was given a meeting with Pope Francis. They asked for him to acknowledge an International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. He agreed and a committee chose to have this day on this, the 8th of February. It was an auspicious date as it corresponded to the feast day of a remarkable woman, Sister Josephine Bakita the patron saint for victims of human trafficking and her native Sudan.
She was born around 1869. We don’t know what her birth name was; all she could remember of her early years was that she came from the Daju people in Darfur and experienced a happy childhood. And despite the global slave trade having been weakened by abolition movements in the West, inter-African slavery was practiced and the Middle East was still a viable market.
Sudan, south of Egypt and west of Ethiopia had been under Ottoman rule by way of Egypt, which claimed North Sudan and was in a campaign to subdue the south. General lawlessness abounded amidst the wars, and slave traders used this as cover to raid villages such as that of the Daju people. The young girl, later called Bakhita, was kidnapped. She was able to escape her first captors and she and a friend came upon a man who offered to help them. It was a ruse, he took them into slavery and they were marched over 600 miles to the capital of El-Obeid. On the way, she was asked her name, and when she paused, one of the Arab guards told another to call her “Bakhita,” Arabic for “lucky”. It was a common slave name. In Roman times, male slaves were often named Felix, and women were called Felicity, which is Latin for “lucky” and hopefully attractive to a superstitious buyer.
Bakhita was sold to two Arab owners in succession. Both were inhumane; the second, she was branded with over 100 razor cuts to her midsection filled with a salt and flour mixture.
In 1883, she was fortunately sold to an Italian serving as a consulate. The Italian consulate was not a full-time position, and when it was time for him, Callisto Legnani, to return to Italy, he brought Bakhita, who had earned the favor of his wife.
In 1888, the Legnani family transferred her to the Michieli family- a somewhat irreligious family who had a baby girl who needed a nanny. Despite the Legnani family being nominally Catholic, Bakhita was fascinated by the Western Christianity she had seen and was given a crucifix. She was struck by the idea that the Christian God would be portrayed in agony and suffering as she had.
The Michieli family was going to move to Sudan, but so they could settle their affairs, they deposited both their daughter and Bakhita at a convent of Cannosian sisters in Venice. Bakhita saw a painting of a black Madonna and questioned if this religion might be for people like her as well. She had been forcibly converted to Islam but had no memory of any religious upbringing save a general sense that a God ruled the affairs of people. She learned Italian and was catechized by the Sisters and baptized with the name Josephine Margarita Bakhita in 1890.
The Michielii family returned to take their daughter and Bakhita to Sudan, but Bakhita refused. She wanted to stay with the sisters and the case went to an Italian court with the sisters aiding Bakhita. The judge ruled in her favor that slavery was illegal in Italy, and thus, she had been free since she entered the country.
Bakhita entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canosssa in 1893 and became a Sister in 1896. In 1902, she was transferred to a monastery in Schio, where she spent the rest of her life. She was uncomfortable telling her story as she worried it would make people feel more sorry for her than grateful for the grace of God. Nonetheless, she would tell her story to a biographer, and her story would lead to her beatification and canonization in 1992 and 2000, respectively. She would be the first modern black African saint and is also recognized by the Episcopal church, which also commemorates the day of her death, the 8th of February in 1947.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and 2 Corinthians.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Felixes include the Cat, the odd Couple’s Ungar, and the kid who was Lucas’ rival on season 2 of One Tree Hill…. He’s really into that show. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man proud to be a fan of the now first-place Los Angeles Clippers and not Erick Sorenson’s Lakers- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.