What St. Josephine Bakhita's story taught me about suffering

st. josephine bakhita

Native Country: Sudan (Darfur region)
Immigrated to: Italy

Born: 1869
Died: 1947 (age 78)

Feast Day: February 8
Patron saint of: human trafficking, Sudan, victims of modern slavery

Fun facts:

  • first Black woman declared a saint in the modern era
  • first and currently only Sudanese saint
  • sometimes depicted with the hibiscus flower as that is the national flower of Sudan

a quick bio of st. josephine bakhita

TW: abuse 

Something maybe not as well-known about St. Josephine Bakhita is that her body was scarred all over. 

Bakhita’s skin underwent the painful and horrendous Sudanese custom of scarring slaves - where a pattern was cut into the skin with a razor. Then salt was poured into the open wounds to ensure it would scar. When finished, 140 intricate patterns were cut into her breast, torso, and arm. 

Aside from this, she suffered so many other traumas. She was kidnapped at age 7 and sold into slavery. It was such a traumatic experience for her that she actually *forgot* the name her loving parents had given her. Her new owners gave her the name "Bakhita" which means "fortunate" - an ironicly cruel name given her circumstances. She was beaten and abused often by different "masters" when she was repeatedly resold. 

When she was sold to an Italian diplomat, he took her back to Italy, and it was there that she met Jesus for the first time. Her nannying duties took her often to Venice’s Institute of Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters and she felt very drawn to the Catholic Church through witnessing their lives. She was baptized in 1890 and took on the name “Josephine” which means "God will add" or "God will increase." 

She was finally freed in 1893 after she refused to go back to Africa and WON the legal battle for her freedom, with the help of the Canossian Sisters. She became a religious sister herself soon after, until her death in 1947. 

What St. Josephine Bakhita taught me about suffering

What fascinates me about St. Josephine Bakhita, is that she never discarded her name given to her by the slave traders ("Bakhita" - "fortunate one"). She kept it alongside the baptism name she chose for herself, as if to say, "Even my suffering, my trauma, is a part of my story. 

And even though I went through so much pain, God will increase ("Josephine") and He will cover it all and redeem it." 

It's a message that I need to hear as I am struggling with my own sufferings. To remind us that our worth is not based solely on our sufferings, traumas, or life circumstances. God is greater, and He will increase. He will add His glory and grace to every hardship. 

On St. Josephine Bakhita's feast day, let us pray: 

for those who have suffered untold trauma 

for those who have endured severe injustice and lack of respect for their human dignity 

for those who have lost sight of who they are in the eyes of God 

for the victims of human trafficking 

for an end to racial injustices around the world

St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us! 


inspired by the beauty of St. Josephine Bakhita's life.


  • "In God's will, there is great peace."
  • "Death brings us to God!"
  • "Pray and God will do the rest."
  • "Mary protected me before I even knew her!"
  • "I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good."


  • She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand.” Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: ‘I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.’ Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed,” no longer a slave, but a free child of God." - Pope Benedict XVI (2007)
  • "In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights." - St. Pope John Paul II, Canonization of St. Josephine Bakhita, 2000

celebrate black history month

Honor the beauty of St. Josephine Bakhita's life and story by:

Sharing her story with a friend

Praying to her


1. Franciscan Media

2. Word on Fire

3. Aleteia

4. Notre Dame

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