St Josephine Bakhita was was born in Sudan in 1896 and was sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum as a slave after traders kidnapped her when she was a young girl. The terror that slavery provoked in her was so strong that she actually forgot the name her parents gave her and so she adopted the name that her kidnappers gave her: “Bakhita”, meaning “fortunate”.
Bakhita was eventually bought by an Italian consul, Augusto Michieli, who treated her well. Eventually they moved to Italy and settled with his family in Zianigo, a hamlet in the province of Venice.
When Michieli had to move away with his wife he entrusted Bakhita and his daughter Mimmina to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice. Bakhita was baptised Josephine in January 1890. On the same day she was also confirmed and received Communion from Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice and future Pope Pius X.
She became a nun on December 8 1896 and lived with the Schio community for the next 50 years. During her life Josephine was renowned for her love of children who attend the Canossian schools daily. She was known to say to others around her: “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know him. What a great grace it is to know God!”
St Josephine’s later years were marked by sickness and disability. She was confined to a wheelchair, but remained cheerful. When was asked how she was, she would reply: “As the Master desires.” In her final moments she had flashbacks to her days as a slave and exclaimed: “The chains are too tight, loosen them a little, please!”
St Josephine died at 8:10pm on February 8 1947. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. The petitions for her canonisation began immediately.
In December 1978 John Paul II declared Josephine Venerable and in May 1992 he beatified her. On October 1 2000 she was eventually canonised, becoming St Josephine Bakhita. Her feast day is celebrated on February 8.