A story of a slave who fought for freedom
With the 8th of February being the Memorial Day of St Bakhita – an African Saint who passed through slavery – there are some remarkable facts from her story that should be an inspiration to today’s survivors of modern slavery, activists who are trying to stop this crime and to everyone who upholds the value of freedom and human dignity.
First – slavery is real! Bakhita died soon after the second World War – in 1947. It is a time when cinema was popular and everyone in Europe set about buying TV sets for their homes! Yet her story – a story of being exploited in the most inhumane way rather fits the time of Middle Ages, also called Dark Ages. She was captured, forced to walk nearly 1,000 km, then sold at a slave market to her new owners. Her name was changed to the name Bakhita (a name meaning ‘to be fortunate’ in Arabic), a name given to her in order to humiliate her. She was lucky to become a slave of her new masters! Sold several times, Bakhita was now a maid serving others. Working hard was not enough as she was beaten, whipped, and humiliated. On one occasion her owners decided to tattoo her – by cutting her skin and rubbing salt in her wounds in order to make scars.
The second aspect of Bakhita is her resilience – she did not merely survive but managed to maintain her African values and when an opportunity arose, she used them extremely well. Freedom was not given to her on a silver plate – she fought for it! Despite years of abuse and humiliation, Bakhita never gave up on her fate, knowing that she had a dignity of a human being that nobody can take away from her – that also includes her slave owners!
Thirdly, we always see Bakhita with a peaceful smile as the Catholic Church promoted this painting when she was declared a Saint. But she was a person of justice – and justice often requires resistance and capacity to demand what is rightfully yours. When the Italian family that ‘owned’ her tried to force her back to Sudan, she fiercely resisted with her destiny being discussed by the Italian court. In court, the judge stated that her status as a slave was never legal so her owners had no right over her. Bakhita was then able to decide her own destiny; she won the court battle!
Finally, a special characteristic for Christians, particularly Catholics, was her free decision to become a Christian and join the Canossian Sisters. During her life as a free woman, she was a Canossian nun, known for her personal capacity to bring joy and her efforts to protect others. Local people gave her a nickname: Madre Moretta – Black Mother, as she was a Mother – Protector in the time of suffering and war (Second World War)!
An African survivor of slavery, whose childhood and youth were snatched and ruined by greedy slave traders, she was able to resist humiliation, abuse, and torture and never gave up on her identity. A slave who stood against her powerful owners and fought for her freedom. And a survivor of slavery who become a protector of others – Saint Bakhita is the best patron for today’s counter-trafficking work. Therefore, let us remember Bakhita as we know that her story continues to recur in the lives of victims of human trafficking – modern slavery! The fight against human trafficking is not over with 50 million people being in a situation of modern slavery. There are many Bakhitas living among us! Let’s find them and become part of their strive for freedom!