In the tapestry of history, where tales of suffering often intertwine with threads of hope, the life of St Josephine Bakhita, also known as ‘Mother Moretta’, stands as a beacon for us. Her feast day on 8 February marks a day not just to commemorate a saint but to shine a spotlight on the ongoing battle against modern slavery.
In the late 19th century, in the heart of Sudan, a young girl’s childhood was stolen – a tragedy that echoes the tales of millions ensnared by modern-day slavery. Kidnapped at the age of nine, she became a nameless victim, her identity erased, and her fate sealed by the cruelty of human trafficking.
The trauma she endured was so profound that she lost recollection of her birth name, and her captors gave her the name Bakhita, meaning ‘fortunate.’ Yet, in that adversity, a glimmer of light pierced through the darkness of St Bakhita’s life. The Italian Consul, through an act of providence, initiated a journey from captivity to freedom.
St Bakhita’s journey took a profound turn when she was entrusted to the care of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, where she came to know about God, who had suffered as she had. Over the following five decades, she became a living testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Her sewing, embroidering, cooking and role as doorkeeper transformed everyday tasks into acts of faith and defiance.
In the face of prolonged illness, St Bakhita’s unwavering faith and constant smile became sources of inspiration for those around her. Her plea during her final days to “loosen the chains” echoed not only the physical weight she had carried but the broader struggle against the chains of injustice that millions still endure to this day.
As per the Global Slavery Index (2023), approximately 50 million individuals endure modern slavery daily, with the Asia Pacific region having the highest prevalence. Within Australia, an estimated 41,000 people are trapped in such conditions. The Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network (ACAN) unites Catholic entities to combine their purchasing power, pool resources, and synchronise efforts in addressing the risk of modern slavery within their respective industry sectors.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, has previously said: “Wherever you are, whatever you do, we can together make a difference, and eradicate this evil from our midst, thus making the kingdom of God real and present for you.”
The St Josephine Bakhita Feast Day is on 8 February, and the Diocese of Parramatta will celebrate her Memorial Mass at 12.30pm Sunday 11 February at St Patrick’s Church, Mary Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown, in conjunction with Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the Sudanese Australian Catholic Community. All are welcome to attend.
Deacon John Cinya from Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, reflecting on the upcoming Feast of St Bakhita said: “This day continues to hold a significant life story for the Sudanese people and many others around the world. St Bakhita’s life experience is a testimony and triumph of the human spirit and the changing power of faith.
“St Bakhita inspires us, especially the Catholic Church, to advocate for social justice, the eradication of modern slavery and the promotion of human dignity. The feast day also provides an opportunity for Sudanese people to connect with their historical, cultural, and religious roots, fostering a sense of identity and pride.”
James Atanasious, the Peace, Justice, and Ecology Facilitator in the Diocese of Parramatta, emphasises the timeless relevance of St Bakhita’s story.
“As we commemorate St Josephine Bakhita, let us also remember the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in Australia and worldwide, and let us celebrate and thank God for the gifts that the South Sudanese and Sudanese communities contribute to our church and society,” he said.
Mission Enhancement Team Facilitator Rachel Kama mirrored this sentiment. “St Bakhita’s gentle spirit paves the way for diverse communities to coexist. Through worship and dance, we are able to immerse ourselves in Sudanese and South Sudanese culture, emphasising the significance of St Bakhita’s legacy and impact,” she said.
St Josephine Bakhita’s story calls us to pause, reflect, and act. Her legacy is not just a tale of a bygone era but a poignant reminder that the fight against modern slavery continues. As we honour her this February, may her enduring light illuminate our collective path towards a world free of the chains of injustice.
Join the congregation on Sunday 11 February at 12:30pm at St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, for the Feast Day Mass for St Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of Sudan, South Sudan, victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, and will be followed by refreshments and entertainment from the Sudanese community.