“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
This amazing woman was born in Darfur in 1869. Her childhood was a blessed one as her father was very prosperous. She said that she knew nothing of suffering. Sometime between the ages of seven and nine Bakhita was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She would spend the next decade being shuffled from one slave owner to the next. Bakhita was no longer a stranger to suffering. She was once beaten for breaking a vase. The abuse was so extensive she could not get out of bed for a month. Probably the most brutal abuse she underwent was being intentionally scarred or tattooed all over her breasts, belly and right arm. The wounds were filled with salt to ensure permanent scarring.
Eventually, Bakhita was sold to a different family and would serve as their nanny for three years. They took Bakhita to Italy but when it was time to return she would not go with them. Since Italy does not recognize slavery, Bakhita was free! Two months later, she entered the Catholic Church and was Confirmed by future Pope Pius X. A few years later, she decided to enter the Canossian order. There Bakhita spoke out about her earlier years and helped prepare missionaries for evangelization in Africa.
But the real story of her heroism is found in her forgiving heart. Bakhita credits her kidnappers for her amazing faith. She said, “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.”
St. John Paul II would later say of St. Bakhita, “In her we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”
Perhaps it is difficult for us in America to relate to such horror and torture. Yet, the story of St. Bakhita is truly one for all of us. Despite being separated from her family and brutalized for more than a decade, Bakhita still chose to love. Each of us has something that we hold on to, something that enslaves us. Unfortunately that is the reality of sin. Sin causes us to have gaping wounds that leave nasty scars. Perhaps it’s not even your own sinfulness. Often times the deepest wounds in our life were blown by those closest to us. We allow those wounds to speak lies to us. We hear them say, “you are not good enough,” “you deserved it,” or “you’ll never be able to change.” When we believe these things we become enslaved by them. Fear begins to dictate who we are and slowly we become people we were never meant to be.
Bakhita teaches us about freedom! The emancipation that St. John Paul II was getting at starts with forgiveness. It takes immense courage and daily commitment to not only forgive others who have wronged you but to take it a step further and actually thank them for it. When we do this we learn something. We all fall short. As I have been wronged so also have I wronged someone else. Understanding that, helps us take the first step: Forgiving ourselves.
Reflect: Are you holding onto a grudge? Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? Ask St. Bakhita to help you in this.
Reflect: Is there someone in your life who has caused suffering that brought you closer to Christ? Can you thank them for those wounds?
Act: Bakhita’s emancipation from slavery can become the symbol for your own. Allow Jesus to come and love you in your slavery, to love you in your addiction to sin, and to love you in your woundedness, He will free you. He wants to free you. St. Bakhita, Pray for us.