We, The Fortunate Ones

As we move from celebrating the Feast of Sr. Rosalie Rendu, D.C. (February 7th), we turn our attention to the life and example of Saint Josephine Bakhita, F.D.C.C. (February 8th), a Sudanese woman, freed slave, Canossian Daughter of Charity, patron saint of human trafficking survivors, and someone we might consider a member of our extended Vincentian Family.[1]

Born in 1869 to the Dagiu ́people of Darfur in western Sudan, she was raised among a family of cattle and sheep herders until she was kidnapped (several years after her older sister suffered the same fate) by trans-Saharan slave-traders who mockingly named her Bakhita (meaning “fortunate or lucky one”). Over the course of her adolescence and early adulthood, Bakhita was sold to several enslavers, who treated her with varying degrees of cruelty and kindness, until she finally found a community of support among the religious of Italy. They assisted her in securing emancipation and supported her journey of religious formation. Bakhita spent the remainder of her life living in community among the people of Schio, Italy, serving as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent.

Few of us in the United States know firsthand the horrors and degradation of slavery; however, we know its terrible legacies of structural, systemic racism, dehumanizing poverty, and environmental degradation. Much like Bakhita, we can at times feel powerless in the face of such forces, which seem immense and beyond our individual control. Although Bakhita had limited control over the what of her life, we can look to her as an example of courage, fortitude, and hope in shaping the how of our lives; that is, the infinitely creative ways in which we can respond to the Vincentian question, “What must be done?”

As you move through today, consider how you can respond to the personal, institutional, and societal injustices that we encounter in our daily life, work, and study. How can you, like Saint Josephine Bakhita, respond to the call for social and environmental justice in your life?

We invite you to contribute your brief response by sharing a thought, a quote, an image, or a combination of these to our communal reflection at our Bakhita Mission Monday Jamboard as a sign and symbol of hope and solidarity within our community.

Reflection by: Rubén Álvarez Silva, M.Ed. (He, Him, His), Associate Director for Just DePaul, Division of Mission and Ministry

Photo credit: Marcin Mazur at https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/46346193904. Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

[1] The following sources were used in writing this post: M. Shawn Copeland, “A Woman of Courage, Fortitude and Hope” in Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie, ed. Susan Perry (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) available at https://www.ncronline.org/books/2021/06/woman-courage-fortitude-and-hope; and “St. Josephine Bakhita,” Catholic Online (website), accessed February 3, 2022, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5601.

St. Josephine Bakhita: Model of Resilience, Right Relationship, and Solidarity

Today, February 8th, we celebrate the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, FDCC, a twentieth-century saint with ties to the spirit of the Vincentian family. Josephine was canonized in 2000, and we still have much to learn about her life.

Born in Sudan in 1869, Josephine was kidnapped and enslaved as a young child. After being sold numerous times, she was trafficked to Italy, where she worked as a caregiver for a family’s young child. The child attended a school run by the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and it was here that Josephine claimed her self-agency. She took her case to court and, with the support of the Daughters, advocated for her own freedom. In 1896, she took vows and became a Canossian Daughter of Charity.1

Unlike many of our own Vincentian family members, Josephine’s pivotal moment of awakening was not growing aware of the hardships of those on the margins. Rather, Josephine became aware of her own power and the strength of her own voice.

Josephine is the patron saint of both Sudan and of the survivors of human trafficking. Her feast day marks the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. In a world wherein markets depend on exploitation, modern day slavery, and prison labor, Josephine’s story reminds us that we are an interconnected, global human family. As consumers, the decisions we make impact the lives of our kin around the globe. Josephine calls us to see those relationships with her words, “We must love everyone…we must be compassionate!”2

By shopping second-hand, by prioritizing Fair Trade and ethically sourced goods, and by demanding corporate responsibility, each of us can take small steps toward ending modern day slavery. As we celebrate Josephine’s feast day, take a moment to reflect on the ways you feel called to honor her story.

  • What is one way you can commit to material simplicity and solidarity in the week ahead?
  • What is one step you can take to become more aware of human trafficking in our world today?
  • How can you use your voice to advocate for change and defend human dignity?

1 The Canossian Daughters of Charity, also called Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, were founded in 1808 at Verona, Italy, by Saint Maddalena Gabriella di Canossa (1774-1835, canonized 1988). Their work was centered on Christian doctrine and in the care of poor children, in hospitals, and in education. Canossa was familiar with the Vincentian spirit and had planned to found this institute in collaboration with a Lady of Charity, who changed her mind and abandoned the project. The mission of this institute is to serve the poor. Other communities evolved from its foundation include the Institute of the Holy Family of Leopoldina Naudet; the Minims of Charity of Mary the Most Sorrowful Mother of Teodora Campestrini; the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Maria Bucchi; and the Daughters of the Church of Oliva Bonaldo. Generalate: Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 70; 00135 Rome, Italy.

See also, Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., The Vincentian Family Tree: A Genealogical Study (V.S.I., 1996), p. 25, n. 25. Online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/6

2 Quote drawn from a webpage celebrating the life of Sr. Josephine, and sponsored by the Canossian Daughters of Charity: http://www.bakhita.fdcc.org/eng/bakhita-s-sayings.html

Reflection by: Emily LaHood-Olsen, Ministry Coordinator for Service Immersions, Division of Mission and Ministry