St. Josephine Bakhita is a fairly "new" saint to me. But when I first read about her life a few years ago, I was instantly drawn to her:
Bakhita was born in Sudan, Africa in 1869. At a young age, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her name, so her captors named her Bakhita, which means "fortunate" in Arabic.
Over the years, Bakhita was owned by many masters who severely abused and beat her. One of her masters would even place salt in her open wounds to make sure that they would permanently scar.
After being a slave to several owners in Sudan, Bakhita eventually was sent to work in Italy as a nanny for the colleague of Sudan's Italian consul. For the first time, she was treated with love and respect by this family.
While her masters were back in Sudan on business, Bakhita and their daughter were left in the care of the Canossian (religious) Sisters in Italy. It was here where she first encountered Christ, the One True and Loving Master. She fell in love with Him and joined the Catholic Church in 1890, taking the name Josephine at her baptism.
When her masters came back for their daughter and Josephine, she refused to leave. It eventually ended up in the courts, but they decided that she was a free woman since Sudan and Italy did not recognize slavery. With her freedom, she decided to remain in Italy and become a Canossian sister.
St. Josephine Bakhita was known for her gentleness and holiness in her 50 years as a religious sister. When asked what she would do if she met her kidnappers, she replied,
"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. Josephine Bakhita suffered greatly with illnesses the last years of her life, but she always remained cheerful saying, "as the Master desires". She died on February 8, 1947.
To celebrate St. Josephine Bakhita's feast day on February 8th, I have a few simple and fun things planned to teach the kids about her remarkable life for Christ:
1. They love to color, so I found this beautiful coloring page of St. Josephine Bakhita (and also this one) for the kids.
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2. While they were coloring, I told them her story. Right away, J recognized that it was similar to the story of St. Patrick. (They know his story through this animated movie that we love.) He was also kidnapped and sold into slavery. That parallel really helped them to better understand St. Josephine's life story.
I also talked about how St. Josephine Bakhita did not know Jesus Christ while she was a slave, but that she still bravely bore all of her sufferings and always longed to know the Creator of the world:
"Seeing the sun, the moon, and the stars, I said to myself: 'Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?' And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him, and to pay Him homage".
3. St. Josephine saw the One True Master in "the sun, the moon, and the stars" before she came to know Christ. So for lunch, I planned a meal that represents the things that pulled her heart toward God before she even knew Him. (I got this idea from here.)
The kids really enjoyed their special St. Josephine lunch: apple crescent moons; a clementine sun; and ham, cream cheese, spinach, and cheese star "cracker sandwiches". While they ate, we talked about St. Josephine and how she first saw God in the beauty of His Creation and how we see God in nature today.
4. And to continue with that theme, I had the kids tell me what they thought was beautiful outside in nature. They mentioned the sunrise and the sunset, and it happened to be snowing, so of course, they also said snow! The next time it is nice outside and we can take a walk, I will once again talk about seeing God's beauty in nature like St. Josephine did.
5. I also highly recommend the movie Bakhita: From Slave to Saint. However, this movie is NOT for children. It does show her abuse. Also, it is not 100% accurate, but I still love it! It's so amazing to see everything she went through and how she never lost her gentle, joyful, and forgiving spirit in the middle of so much personal suffering.
Happy Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita! Like this beautiful saint, may we live lives of joy in the midst of trials, forgive those who mistreat us, and always see God in the beauty of the little and big things of everyday life!