Today, February 8, we commemorate the Feast Day of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of freedom for persons victimized by human trafficking. At 7 years of age, she was kidnapped from her small village in the Darfur region of Sudan and sold into slavery. Like other slaves, Josephine was badly beaten, abused, and sold multiple times. Eventually she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legnani, who did not abuse her. On his next trip abroad, he arranged for his wife and Josephine to stay with the Canossian Sisters. There Josephine was attracted to Catholicism and felt supported by the Sisters’ care and concern for her. It was the first time she had truly experienced human kindness. She determined to stay with the Sisters and won her freedom from an Italian court to do so. She entered the Canossian Sisters where she remained until her death. At her canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II said that in St. Josephine Bakhita, “We find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”
What does St. Josephine’s feast mean for those of us who are not one of the 27.6 million people who have been forced into either sex or labor trafficking? Josephine did not win her freedom through keeping with the status quo. She found people who could and would help win her freedom. While prayer is essential in overcoming the evil of trafficking, awareness, advocacy, and action are most important. Are we willing to contribute to anti-trafficking efforts? Perhaps can we commit to decreasing the precipitating factors that lead to trafficking such as poverty, homelessness, war, and racism.
Many organizations are doing amazing things to help combat human trafficking. Might we be willing to take some time to learn about what they do or how we could help? While financial support matters, it’s not always about donating money. The first step is recognizing that the problem exists. Many wonder what it’s going to be like to meet God face to face. Do we recognize the presence of God in the 27.6 million people who, along with St. Josephine, are counting on us to do something? I find myself inspired by the wisdom of Maya Angelou: “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”
– Sister Jeanne Shary, OP
Sister Jeanne worked with foster youth at Cardinal McCloskey Community Services and now serves as the Communication Coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill.