“The celebration of St. Josephine Bakhita was indeed beautiful and meaningful. It gathered the whole community together to celebrate and to reflect,” says Fr. Khien Luu, Dean of Students at Divine Word College.
The weekend of February 7 and 8 marked DWC’s celebration of the feast of this remarkable saint, who was known to the Vicenzans in northern Italy as la nostra madre moretta, “our little brown mother.” Rebecca Chan, DWC student and Sudanese Club representative, gave a presentation about the saint on Saturday evening in the college Pourhouse lounge. Students and guests filled the room to hear more about this inspiring woman.
Born in Darfur, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven by Arab slave traders and given the name Bakhita, meaning “fortunate.” Over the next eight years, she was sold and resold five times, enduring unspeakable torment and suffering. But God had not forgotten the little girl whose life of horror rendered her unable to remember her own given name. Her last owner, an Italian Consul, treated her well and took her to Italy, where she eventually attained her freedom.
On January 9, 1890, Bakhita was confirmed as a Christian and received her new name, Josephine. In 1896 she became a Daughter of Charity, living and working in the Canossian Sisters religious community in Schio, a town in the province of Vicenza. She remained there for the rest of her life until her death on Feb. 8, 1947. Revered for her humility, simplicity and gentle love for all, Mother Josephine was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.
“We could learn a lot from St. Bakhita’s life,” says Luu, “especially her cheerfulness in the life of service and ability to forgive her physical abductors.”
After Chan’s presentation, games were played and songs sung in Sudanese, English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese by different participants in the evening’s events. For an impressive finale, the DWC Vietnamese Sisters performed a beautiful dance. A meal of pizza, chicken and drinks concluded the program.
On Sunday, the festivity continued with a Mass celebrated in honor of the saint. “Fr. Thang Hoang gave a heart-touching homily about St. Josephine and her life in relation to mission,” says Joseph Okello, a member of the DWC Sudanese club. He adds that the club helps to bring the Sudanese students together as people from one country, getting to know each other as one people and praying together for Sudan. “This means a lot to me because the life of St. Bakhita in slavery was just like what happened to some of us,” Okello explains. “By celebrating this day, we are reminded of how God helps when we are in danger, and how He loves each of us, whether slave or free person.”
“We celebrated the beauty of the Sudanese culture and the gifts of our Sudanese students, who, despite many difficulties in life, have grown and matured through their inner strength, personal endurance and faith,” Luu adds. “I am thankful to the Sudanese students for taking initiative to organize this. Their readiness to work with everybody really brings us together and makes the SVD motto, “One Heart, Many Faces” become true.”