Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily on the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita 2021 at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown
Readings: Genesis 1:1-19; Mark 6:53-56
8 February 2021
St Joseph Bakhita: a shining advocate for genuine emancipation
Today, we honour a saint from Africa whose life story bears some resemblance to St Patrick of Ireland. It is a story that resonates well with us. We have a saying “yesterday’s underdogs are tomorrow’s champions.” St Josephine Bakhita overcame extraordinary odds in order to rise and become what Pope John Paul II called “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”
She was abducted at an early age and sold into slavery. God’s providence, however, led her to an Italian diplomat and she was eventually brought to Italy. There she joined the Canossian Sisters and followed the footsteps of Christ faithfully until the end. Her legacy that transformation is possible through suffering is not only a message of hope for our world but a reminder to fight against injustice wherever we see it.
The Word of God this evening reminds us of God’s vision for us and the world. It is a vision not of destruction but of life, not of dissonance but harmony, not of dominion but communion. As stewards and co-creators with the Creator God, we are called to reshape our lives, communities and world in such a way that brings greater justice, human flourishing and sustainability to all creatures.
The first reading from Genesis gives us an account of God creating the world and all things in it: light, water, earth, vegetation and other elements. God calls creation good six times before human beings come onto the scene. Creation has an inherent goodness. In fact, we have discovered that the Bible links humanity with creation in an intimate relationship. There is a shared destiny as both humans and creation long for full liberation.
Our Indigenous brothers and sisters have for millennia understood this relationship between humans and nature. We can learn from them about the concept of stewardship, which encompasses a sense of responsibility towards the earth and everything in it. COVID-19 is another wake-up call for us to take stock of the way we have contributed to the suffering of Body of Christ, in the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised and our wounded Mother Earth.
In the Gospel, Jesus shows himself as a Messiah who seizes the moment and enacts God’s plan. He goes about proclaiming the reign of the Kingdom and making it a reality in all that he does. Jesus refuses to sit back and allow sin, evil, injustice, oppression to crush humanity. In Jesus who surrounds himself with the outcast, we see a God of solidarity and vulnerability. In Jesus, we meet a God who disturbs our comfort and who pushes us out to the periphery to be with the least of his brothers and sisters. He calls us to follow him and join him in the proclamation of the Kingdom and transformation of the world.
St Josephine Bakhita is a patron saint of victims of slavery and human trafficking. Many think of slavery as a relic of history, eradicated in the 19th century. In fact, slavery has reinvented itself into modern forms and continues to harm people, their families and communities in every country in the world including Australia. We think of many people who are caught in situations of exploitation that they cannot leave, because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception.
Alone, we may feel powerless about these situations. Together, however, we can make a difference. Within the Catholic community, we have such organisations as ACRATH and the Sydney Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce. A simple gesture like only buying slavery-free chocolate can help. As a new year begins and we know that the many dimensions of human trafficking and slavery have escalated in the ongoing pandemic, each of us can contribute to changing this reality for someone.
The Church in Australia is very blessed with your strong faith and devotion. Like a colourful tapestry, you contribute to its richness and diversity in so many ways.
Today, we gather to give thanks for what God has done in His servant Josephine and through her the faith and tradition of the Catholic people of South Sudan. We pray that we may continue to foster and deepen this faith and tradition to the benefit of future generations and the Church in Australia.
Like St Bakhita, may we have the courage to live the paschal mystery as it unfolds in our lives. May we embody the caring and inclusive ministry of Jesus and bring about the divine intent of freedom, liberation and emancipation for humanity.