I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor. Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 211
Today the Church celebrates a Sudanese sister who had been for many years a slave, a victim of human trafficking. Saint Josephina Bakhita transformed her suffering into service of others as a Canossian sister in northern Italy.
Born in the Darfur region of Sudan, she was kidnapped into slavery when she was about seven years old. Sold several times – and seriously maltreated at least twice – she was eventually sold to an Italian consul who took her back with his family to Venice, Italy. There the consul gave Bakhita to a friend who entrusted her with care of their daughter.
To make a long story short, the daughter and Bakhita were sent to the Canossian sisters. There Bakhita learned about the Catholic faith. Her “owners” wanted to take her back to Sudan where they had a hotel but she refused. The owners insisted but the Canossian sisters and the Patriarch of Venice took the side of Bakhita who was baptized and given the name Josephine. To the owners’ surprise, Josephine was freed, since slavery was prohibited in Italy.
She joined the Canossian sisters and spent more than fifty years in simple tasks in several convents, supporting her sisters with her work and her prayers.
This morning as I prayed over the life of St. Josephine, I recalled several people from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, where I worked for many years.
I recall the families, especially Paula and Jim, who took in some of the Lost Boys of Sudan and made them a part of their lives.
I remember the large number of Sudanese Catholics who were a part of the St. Thomas parish.
I also remember a precocious high school student in religious ed, Luis, who has become a major advocate in the fight against human trafficking, even within the US State Department.
I remember the commitment of these people, as well as the suffering of the Sudanese people – even now – and the continuing scourge of human trafficking and poorly paid workers.
These people inspire me to continue the small ways I feel called to help people recall and recover their dignity, as children of God.