St. Bakhita has become the patron saint of victims of human trafficking and is coming to to help to all who suffer. Every year since 2015, we pray on the day of her feast day, February 8, and in the light of her life experience, we pray for all those enslaved in Slovakia and in the entire world. Her inspiring story appeals to us so much that we decided to visit the place in Italy she spent over 40 years of her life.
Bakhita is close to us despite her remote origins, different culture or color of her skin. The locals in Schio called her “Madre Moretta” (dark mother), because until then they had no experience with religious of such distant culture in their region. At first, the children were even afraid of her until they got to know her better. We also went to get to know her a little better and we had the opportunity to listen to many inspiring moments that happened in her life. And so it is not just her locket of the Virgin Mary of the Seven Sorrows, the patron saint of Slovakia, that can bring this saint close to us.
A small town surrounded by mountains is located in northern Italy in the province of Vicenza. St. Bakhita spent here in the Kanosian Monastery about 45 years after gaining her freedom. Before the pandemic, 23,000 visitors came to Bakhita’s grave in Schio every year. Now the temple was almost empty, so the Canossian sisters could pay generous attention to us and tell the stories and miracles that come with their fellow sister. Charity on the road… Beginning of the journey of St. Bakhity to freedom
From Sudan to Schia
Journey of st. Bakhita from slavery to freedom was long and painful. She passed through several hands of violent merchants. In her story, there were also moments of hope in the escape, which, however, ended up again in the yoke of another merchant. She was sold 5 times and scarred by 114 wounds until she got from her home village near Darfur to the port of Suakin, from where she could travel to Europe. The key people on her path to freedom were, as we have learned, Mr Legnani and Mr Micchieli. They made sure that Bakhita no longer suffered from the inhuman treatment of her masters. Legnani, the Italian consul in Sudan, bought young slaves and gave them freedom. He also bought Bakhita from a cruel Turkish general and wanted to release her. However, Bakhita did not remember the name of the village she came from, just as she did not remember her real name. She therefore asked Mr. Legnani to take her to his country, which he agreed to upon her great urgency. In Italy Mr. Legnani passed her on to his friend Michieli’s family, where they treated her with respect. She “met Christ” for the first time in their house. It was in the form of a small crucifix that impressed her so much that she wanted to get to know better the one who seemed to suffer so much more than she did. Her great desire led her to religious devotion. After finally gaining her freedom, she decided to give her life to God as “her only Lord.” She spent her first religious years in Venice, later in Schio.
Church of St. family in Schio
St. Jozefína Bakhita spent 45 years in Schio, working as a cook, porter and church clerk. She spent hours in prayer at the church. Sister Laura mentioned to us an episode of her fellow sisters in the church: Elder Bakhita was already in a wheelchair and needed sisters´ assistance. Once they left her praying in the temple and forgot about her. When they returned four hours later worried and remorsed, they found her still praying peacefully. She told them simply: Why are you upset? Don’t you know that I am here with my Lord?
Tomb of St. Bakhity
Inside the tombstone of the lying figure there is a box with stored bones of St. Bakhita. The statue depicts young Bakhita, after her arrival in Schio, when she was about 33 years old. We have heard a number of stories and miracles of St. Bakhita from her co-sisters, the Canosians, who spoke of her as if she were still among them:
When Madre Bakhita saw two students stealing fruit from a tree in their garden, she simply told them, “The Lord sees everything.” From the moment she met Him, she always referred to Him.
We also learned that the founder of the Canossian Order, Maddalena di Canossa, was a marquise, so the decorative cap that st. Bakhita wore was a sign of the aristocracy and originally a natural part of their habit.
Miracles of St. Bakhita
Sv. Josephine Bakhita had the gift of prophecy, and miracles were already happening during her lifetime. Museum of St. Bakhita at the Canosian Institute is full of well-documented miracles that have happened up to this day. To her beatification in In 1993, there were more than 200 miracles from which they could not choose, so they chose one by a draw. It was a miracle that happened to her co-sister.
Virtues of St. Bakhita
Once Bakhita was asked what she would do if she met her former kidnappers. She replied, “If I were to meet those who abducted me, and even those who exploited me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For if these things had not happened, I would not become a Christian and a religious today. ”Three virtues are revealed from this one statement. First of all, it shows her forgiveness: she has long since broken any chains of hatred and bitterness. It further reveals her faith: she saw how God’s mysterious providence works even in the worst of suffering. In the end, it illustrates her gratitude: she was deeply grateful for finding her way to God and becoming a nun.
Bakhita never said anything bad about others, “never in her life!” Even with the miracles that have happened during her lifetime, she always said, do not worship me, but my Lord. He did it.
She even mocked herself e.g. when they took her measures for a religious habit, she laughed, “It will be easy to take my measures, I’m as flat as a board.”
Farewell to St. Bakhita
At the end of the visit, we had a unique opportunity to meet an elderly lady, who had experienced Bakhita personally and still goes to the grave of “her friend”. She remembers her from her school days when she came to the canosian school, where St. Bakhita was a porter at the time.
St. John Paul II called her a “woman of forgiveness and reconciliation.” As the sister stressed to us several times St. Bakhita was a woman par excellence free.” There was not a bit of hatred in her that would bound her.