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January 11 (National Human Trafficking Awareness Day) to February 8 (Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita) is a month set aside to pray for an end to human trafficking. It is a time to remember those who are vulnerable and more easily victimized – migrants, runaway youth, homeless youth, welfare children, the mentally ill or compromised, applicants for fake jobs in foreign places, etc. Usually trafficking is a crime against those who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized.
This is a month of awareness and prayer. Trafficking is almost universal. In the United States major events like the Super Bowl (February 3, 2019) are often highlighted as time when victims are secured for the victors and celebrators. What a sad legacy.
It is a time to remember, to study, and to pray. We pray for the victims living in slavery and we pray for those advocating for change and policing events. We also pray for the guilty, those who do not recognize the common humanity of all people.
The month ends on the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita. On 1 October 2000, she was canonized. Josephine is the patron saint of human trafficking survivors. Her life story is written below – an excerpt from our online learning experience: Holy Women of History
Josephine’s Story: Josephine Bakhita (c.1869-1947) was born in the western Sudanese region of Darfur in the village of Olgossa. She was a member of the Daju people. Her father was the brother of the village chief. She had three brothers and three sisters and grew up in a rather carefree environment. However, that was soon to change. Sometime between the ages of seven and nine she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders.
This began her most difficult life. She was forced to walk barefoot almost 600 miles and was sold and bought twice before she arrived in Southern Sudan. Over the next twelve years she was sold and bought three more times and then given away. It was said that in all this trauma she forgot her own name, so she took one given to her by the traders, bakhita (Arabic for “lucky). She was also forced to convert to Islam.
During the course of her “slave life” she was owned by a rich Arab, who treated her well. However, after scolding one of his sons, the son lashed out and kicked her so severely that she spent a month unable to move from her bed. She was then sold to a Turkish general and had to serve his wife and mother-in-law, both of whom treated her cruelly. One of her worst memories was when she was scarred with 114 “tattoos” all over her body.
In 1883, at the age of fourteen, Bakhita was bought by the Italian Vice Consul who actually treated her kindly. When he had to return to Italy, Bakhita begged to go with him. After a harrowing escape, she was eventually given as a gift to Signora Maria Turina who took her to live with the family in a town near Venice. There she served as a nanny to their daughter, Alice. She accompanied Alice to school, where the child was being instructed in the Christian religion, and thus Bakhita, too, learned about Christianity. When the Turinas returned to Sudan to inspect some property they had purchased, Alice and her nanny stayed with the Canossian Sisters in Venice.
When the Turinas made a decision to return the entire family to the Sudan, and intended to take Alice and her nanny with them, Bakhita refused to leave. She complained to the Italian authorities who informed her that slavery had been outlawed in the Sudan before she was born, and Italian law did not recognize slavery. Bakhita chose to remain with the Canossians. She was baptized with the name Josephine, made her First Communion and was confirmed, all on the same day by the Cardinal of Venice (who later was elected Pope Pius X).
Josephine Bakhita entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and became a vowed member in 1896. She spent the rest of her life at the Canossian convent at Schio in the northern part of Italy. During her life she served as cook, sacristan and portress and was in frequent contact with the local community. She was known for her gentleness, calming voice and smile. She served as a special calming influence during the Second World War. During her last years she was confined to a wheelchair, but always retained her cheerfulness. She died in February, 1947.
There is a full length movie on the life of Josephine Bakhita. If you click the link below you can see the trailer. The movie is available for a purchase price.