A nine year old girl in a happy family, was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Over a period of fourteen years she was bought and sold five times. She suffered beatings and horrific indignity, so traumatic was the experience that she forgot her own name – she lost any sense of identity. In her own words:
One day I unwittingly made a mistake that incensed the master’s son. He became furious, snatched me violently from my hiding place, and began to strike me ferociously with the lash and his feet. Finally he left me half dead, completely unconscious. Some slaves carried me away and lay me on a straw mat, where I remained for over a month. A woman skilled in this cruel art [tattooing of slaves] came to the general’s house…our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor. When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds. My face was spared, but six patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds…it was by a miracle of God I didn’t die. He had destined me for better things.
Eventually the family holding her came to Italy, she was freed from slavery and was inspired to become a nun in northern Italy. Josephine Bakhita, as she became known, was to spend the rest of her life as a nun, renowned for her gentleness, smile and holiness.
During her last days, spent in a wheelchair, she relived the painful time of her slavery in her sickness, and more than once begged: ‘Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy’. Surrounded by the sisters, she died on 8 February 1947 (now the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita).
Today people are trafficked into prostitution, pornography, agricultural and building labour, manufacturing, domestic servitude, forced begging, benefit fraud and petty criminality, and organ removal. Trafficking happens in all parts of the world, both across international borders and within countries.
Each year about 2,000 men, women and children are rescued from trafficking in the UK, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thought to be 10,000 – 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK.
Josephine Bakhita’s life is a sign of hope and light amidst the horror and darkness of human trafficking. An icon of her in St Chrysostom’s Church is a focus of prayer for the trafficked.
Loving God, Who gathers the outcast, Heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds; Bring liberty and freedom to all whose lives are entangled in slavery and trafficking in our world today. Lift up the down trodden and tread wickedness into the dust: We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in perfect freedom, One God, now and forever. Amen.
St Josephine Bakhita,
pray for us.
Perhaps, especially given the enormous extent of slavery in today’s world, we could hope for Josephine Bakhita’s inclusion in a future edition of ‘Exciting Holiness’ – saints and holy ones commemorated by the Church of England. (See here)