St Josephine Bakhita – Patroness of Victims of Slavery & Human Trafficking

In 2019, Pope Francis officially declared 8 February to be a “World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking … [and a] time to end slavery” (Catholic Religious Australia, 2019). 

The significance of the 8 February regarding “Action Against human trafficking”, is that this date is the feastday of St Josephine Bakhita, who as a child, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Josephine’s faith journey begins with her origins in Africa, then continues during her years of bondage and slavery and culminates in her conversion to Christianity, and then finally her elevation to sainthood in the Catholic Church. Much of the information used for Josephine’s Profile was taken from the Memoirs of St Josephine, which she completed in Schio in 1910, and which were “abstracted from ‘Bakhita’ by Maria Luisa Dagnino in Rome in 1991”. All direct quotations of St Josephine are printed in italics, which is how her words are presented in the manuscript of her memoirs.

Josephine Bakhita was born about 1869 at Olgossa, Darfur, Sudan. According to Josephine, her family “lived at the very heart of Africa, in a village of the Darfur region, known as Olgossa, close to Mt. Agilere” (Maria Luisa Dagnino, 1991:5, cited in Bakhita’s Memoirs, 1910). The family was relatively wealthy, with lands, crops and livestock. Josephine records, that her family consisted of her father, mother, and “three brothers, three sisters and four others I never knew because they died before I was born. I [also] had a twin sister” (cited in Roberto Italo Zanini, 2013:35). Bakhita was not the name that Josephine received when she was born. The Vatican News sources (n.d.) state that “The fright and the terrible experiences she went through made her forget the name she was given by her parents. Bakhita, which means ‘Fortunate [or lucky]’, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.” Also, it wasn’t until her baptism in 1890, that Bakhita was given the name Josephine.