Bakhita was born into a well-to-do family of the Daju tribe of south-western Sudan. Her father was the brother of the village chief. He owned a lot of land and had hired servants working for him.
At the age of approximately seven years, Bakhita was kidnapped by slave traders and consequently endured many years of physical, emotional and spiritual deprivation. There were long forced marches in slave caravans from her village of Olgossa to the slave markets in El Obeid and then on to Khartoum. Bakhita was sold and re-sold four times in a ten-year period. During this time she was tattooed all over her body with over one hundred incisions. Salt was poured into the wounds to make the pattern of scars stand out. This torture left her immobile from the bleeding and pain for over a month during which time she almost bled to death.
The name “Bakhita” comes from the Arabic language and means “The lucky one.” This name was given to her by the slave traders since, in the trauma of abduction, she had forgotten her own name.
Bakhita continually searched for the meaning in her experiences of life. As a young adult woman she was taken on a trip to Italy with the last family who “owned” her even though they treated her well. During her stay there Bakhita came to know the Catholic faith through the Canossian Daughters of Charity. She decided to be baptized and held firm against returning to the Sudan with her “owners”. With the help of the sisters and some good friends Bakhita gained her freedom. She decided to join the sisters who had taught her about the God she had already experienced in her trials and in her wonderment at the beauty of creation:
“I remember how, as a child, when I contemplated the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the beautiful things of nature, I was wondering, ‘who is the master of it all?’ And I felt a keen desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.” Bakhita.
Bakhita died in Schio on 8 February 1947. She was declared “Blessed” on 17 May 1992, and proclaimed “Saint” on 1 October 2000 in Rome. In her Diary she writes:
“If I were to meet the slave traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. If what happened to me had never taken place, how would I become a Christian and a religious?”
At her canonization Pope John Paul 11 said of her:
“Bakhita has left us a witness of evangelical reconciliation and forgiveness, which will surely bring consolation to the Christians of her homeland, the Sudan, so sorely tried by a conflict that has lasted many years and reaped so many victims. Sister Bakhita has been given to us by the Lord as a universal sister….”