The story of the patron saint of human trafficking victims

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Josephine Bakhita. Credit: A.Currell via Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

Today, February 8, has been designated as the International Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking. It is also the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who is the patron of trafficking victims.

The USCCB is urging people to hold or attend prayer services for victims of this crime. The USCCB estimates that about 17,000 people are trafficked across the United States border each year.

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Sudan. Around 1877, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders. During her time as a slave, she was beaten, tortured, and scarred. Eventually, in 1883, 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.

Once with the sisters, she learned about Christianity, and decided to become Catholic. She refused to go back to the family that enslaved her once they returned to Italy, and an Italian court ruled that since slavery had been outlawed in Sudan prior to her birth, she was not legally a slave. She was then freed from slavery.

With her newfound freedom, she remained with the Canossians, and received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy communion on January 9, 1890. She took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata--with Fortunata being a Latin translation of her Arabic name Bakhita. Three years later, she became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and professed her final vows on December 8, 1896. She then lived out the remainder of her life in a convent in Schio, Vicenza, working as a cook and a doorkeeper. She passed away on February 8, 1947, and was canonized on October 1, 2000, by St. John Paul II.

In addition to her patronage of victims of human trafficking, she is also the patron of her home country of Sudan.

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