Once with the sisters, she learned about Christianity and decided to become Catholic. She refused to go back to the family that enslaved her once they returned to Italy, and an Italian court ruled that since slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before her birth, she was not legally a slave. She was then freed from slavery.
With her newfound freedom, Bakhita remained with the Canossians. She took the names Josephine Margaret and Fortunata, the Latin translation of her Arabic name, Bakhita. Three years later, she became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and professed her final vows on December 8, 1896.
She then lived out the remainder of her life in a convent in Schio, Vicenza, working as a cook and a doorkeeper. She died on Feb. 8, 1947, and was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.
“God took care of Josephine Bakhita; he accompanied her in the process of healing the wounds caused by slavery, until her heart, mind, and inner self became capable of reconciliation, freedom, and tenderness,” Pope Francis said.
“I encourage every woman and every girl who is committed to transformation and care, in school, in the family, and in society. And I encourage every man and every boy not to be left out of this process of transformation, recalling the example of the Good Samaritan: a man who is not ashamed to tend to his brother and to take care of him,” he added.
Aloysius John, the secretary general of the Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis, also spoke out on the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.
“The victims of human trafficking are often the invisible, but they are the most vulnerable populations, and we are called to accompany and protect these women, men, and children,” John said.
Caritas Internationalis is part of a coalition of Christian NGOs engaged in the fight against human trafficking, and works closely with victims of labor and sex trafficking in many countries.
The online prayer marathon for the world day against human trafficking is being coordinated by Talitha Kum, a network of more than 2,000 Catholic religious sisters who serve on the frontlines of the fight against sex trafficking, helping survivors find healing and true freedom.
Religious sisters affiliated with Talitha Kum are present in 77 countries. Members of the network have served 10,000 trafficking survivors by accompanying them to shelters and other residential communities, engaging in international collaboration, and helping them to return home.
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“Let us go forward in the struggle against human trafficking and every form of slavery and exploitation,” Pope Francis said.
“I invite you all to keep your indignation alive — keep your indignation alive! — and to find, every day, the strength to engage with determination on this front. Do not be afraid of the arrogance of violence, no! Do not surrender to the corruption of money and power.”