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Slave and saint – St Josephine Bakhita 8 February

Josephine Bakhita was born around 1869 in the Sudanese region of Darfur but at about 8, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She was forced to walk barefoot for 600 miles, during which she was bought and sold twice. She was forcibly converted to Islam, and the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name. Next she was bought by a rich Arab as a maid for his daughters, but his son attacked her, and her fourth owner was a Turkish general, whose mother-in-law and wife both were extremely cruel. A total of 114 scars were cut into her body.

Now she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul who treated her in a much better way, so when he returned to Italy, she begged to go with him. When they arrived, he gave her to Turina Michieli, wife of a friend, as a present, and she became a nanny. When the Michielis decided to move back to the Sudan, she was left in the temporary care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice, but when she was called for Bakhita refused to leave. A court ruled her slavery illegal, and for the first time Bakhita found herself free and in control of her own life.

She chose to remain with the sisters, and in January 1890 she was baptised. Soon she entered the novitiate and in 1896 took her vows. In 1902 she was assigned to the convent at Schio near Vicenza, where she spent most of the rest of her life. Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile became well known. Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity were noticed by her order and the first publication of her story in 1931, made her famous throughout Italy. When she died in 1947 thousands of people came to pay their respects.

In 2000 she was canonized as Saint Josephine Bakhita. She is venerated as a modern African saint, patron saint of Sudan, and a statement against the brutal history of the Arab, European, and American slave trade and its Christian endorsement, as well as Africa’s own practice of slavery. In May 1992 in Khartoum Pope St John Paul declared: ’Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise and yet still free. Free with the freedom of the saints.’

Fr Matthew

Knowing Christ

“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

This week we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. From that dramatic moment on the road to Damascus Paul’s life would never be the same. And given his effect on Christianity, we can say that the world would also never be the same. Yet I find that quotation a bit scary. It’s that word “nothing” – it’s so absolute. For Paul, there was nothing in the whole wide world more important than knowing Jesus. Does this depth of faith seem way beyond our possibilities – to truly know Christ?

In the last two Sundays’ gospels we have heard about the calling of the Apostles. Why did they do it? Why drop everything, why face an unknown future? At the end of the day, it was quite simply meeting Jesus that made them drop their nets, and leave their counting houses. It was He that reassured them that you did not have to be perfect to follow him, and that He could take care of the future, no matter what it held. Again, it was all about that “knowing Christ”.

Can we join that same journey as the Apostles and St Paul? Yes, we can. So this year we are doing something to help us all on this wonderful adventure of getting to know Our Lord. This week we are starting our “Do You Love Me” project. Over forty parishioners have signed up to follow together the beautiful little book of that name produced under the guidance of the Bishops of England and Wales. This book, I guarantee, will indeed bring you closer to Jesus, help you to know Him better and build a real relationship with Him.

The book is based around the last chapter of St John’s Gospel that I like to call “Breakfast on the Beach”. We are taken step by step through this climactic scene as the apostles encounter the risen Jesus, and Peter faces his three denials and experiences being rebuilt by just one question: “Do you love me?”

The project is not complicated. Every person reads a chapter at home then meets in small groups of about six to share their thoughts. Each group sets its own timescales. If you would like to be part of this project for 2018 and have not yet signed up, it’s not too late as we can make up new groups. Just email me at matthew@3churches.org

Fr Matthew