Benedict XVI cites Josephine Bakhita, a modern African Saint canonized by Pope John Paul II as a classical example of one whose faith and hope in the living God even in the midst of her suffering ‘redeemed’ her. The following account of her life are his words:
She was born around 1869 – she herself did not know the precise date – in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave markets of Sudan. Eventually, she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master” – in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her – that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” – no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by his Love. And so, my life is good”. Through the knowledge of this hope, she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world – without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8th December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: she felt she had to extend to others, to the greatest possible number of people, the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many to reach everybody.
The Passion of Christ shows us the enormous contribution which holy suffering can make to the sanctification of the world. By His words and example Christ taught men; by His miracles, He helped them but it was by His passion and crucifixion that he saved the world. If we can unite our sufferings with the passion of Christ and offer them for the salvation of souls, we might say with St. Paul: “What is lacking of the sufferings of Christ, I fill up in my flesh for His body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24).
The Blessed Virgin Mary revealed to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 that many souls go to hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them. After having promised to take the three children to heaven, she asked:
“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?” “Yes, we are willing”, they replied. “Then, you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort… I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God”.
The examples of heroic courage in adversity and resignation to divine providence shown by the men and women cited in this article teach us all that “it is not life that matters but the courage we put into it”.
Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by; that is, people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?… So we cry to her: Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to His kingdom! Star of the sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way! (Saved in Hope, 49-50).