17-September-2000 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, SLAVE AND SAINT, IS HOPE OF SUFFERING SUDAN

Canonization Scheduled for Oct. 1

MILAN, Italy, (ZENIT.org).-- Josephine Bakhita, a one-time slave and now symbol of faith and unity for suffering Sudan, will be canonized by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 1.

Josephine was born in Sudan in 1869. She was kidnapped and enslaved at age 7 by Arab traders, and given the name Bakhita, which means "fortunate" by her captors. She was bought and sold five times, until 1882, when she was purchased by Calisto Legnani, an Italian consular agent who took her to Italy.

There, she worked as a nanny, heard about Christianity, and was baptized in 1890. Three years later, she entered the Congregation of the Cannosiana Religious, and lived in a convent in Schio, Vicenza, in northern Italy, where she carried out the most menial tasks, and very quickly gained a reputation for sanctity. When she died Feb. 8, 1947, for several days a long line of mourners filed past her coffin for a final goodbye.

Sudan's persecuted Christian minority identifies with Bakhita's simple and profound faith.

"Devotion to this saint is strong and widespread," said Archbishop Antonio Menegazzo, apostolic administrator of El Obeid, the diocese in northern Sudan where Bakhita was born. "Every year in February her feast is celebrated in every diocese and parish."

With an eye toward the canonization, the entire Sudanese bishops' conference has traveled to Italy and is now holding its annual meeting in Pesaro.

"We have chosen to meet in Italy, not only because the north-south division, caused by the war, impedes our meeting in the country, but also to be able to be present at Mother Bakhita's canonization," said Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbeck, which is in the south of Sudan.

"For all of us, Bakhita is a symbol of suffering and hope," Archbishop Menegazzo said. "People who even today experience the drama of slavery, incursions, bombings and want, identify with Bakhita, the girl who was enslaved and deported from El Obeid; very many fugitives, close to 4 million, relive the drama of enforced exile from their land. However, they also recognize the great strength of spirit, tenacity to overcome difficulties, and humility in placing oneself at the service of others. They find protection and help in her."

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