St Josephine Bakhita – International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking

In the Church calendar February 8th, is both the feast of St Bakhita and also International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

St Josephine Bakhita was herself a slave – a victim of human trafficking.  Born in Darfur, Sudan in 1869. Kidnapped at the age of seven, she was sold and resold five times in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum. Over the following thirteen years, we are told that she experienced all the humiliations, sufferings and deprivations of slavery. 

She was bought by the Italian consul to Khartoum in 1883. Two years later, she was taken to Italy. In 1889, when she was twenty years old, a court declared her free.  She then decided to enter religious life with the Canossian Sisters in Venice.  She spent her life sharing her experience of slavery, comforting the poor and suffering.  She was known for her calmness, gentleness and good humour. Josephine Bakhita was canonised by Pope John Paul II on the 1st of October 2000 and she is now the patron Saint of all those who suffer from the violence of human trafficking.

Sadly, today many people still suffer the humiliations and deprivations of slavery.  There are more people enslaved through human trafficking than there were during the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.  Slavery is present in practically every country and it is increasing, not declining. Worldwide, it is estimated that over 49 million people are trafficking or enslaved.

Human trafficking or modern-day slavery – it is the exploitation of individuals through threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, and/or deception. It can take various forms such as sexual exploitation, forced marriage or labour exploitation.  It is happening in industries such as domestic service, agriculture, hospitality, mining, manufacturing, construction or fishing.  It has also been connected with organ trafficking, begging and the recruitment of child soldiers. All of these deprive human beings of their freedom and dignity. 

Pope Francis has said that. “Human Trafficking is an open wound on the body of society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.  It is a crime against humanity.” 

Each year on the 8th of February, the Church celebrates the life and example of St Bakhita. By also marking this day as International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, it is a call for all Christians to pray for victims and also  learn more and of be more aware of the reality of the trafficking, which is present in almost every country in the world.  It is a call to reject this scourge and to act against it in every way we can and wherever we are.

St Bakhita is an example of endurance, determination and hope against adversity – an example of true freedom for those enslaved through trafficking or abusive relationships. She is a sign that trauma and the scars of abuse caused by enslavement or Human Trafficking can be healed and that the dignity of a fully human life can be regained.

Pope John Paul II referred to St Bakhita as “Our Universal Sister” – an example of faith and forgiveness to us all and a source of hope for those who are in any form of slavery or who need to find peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives”. 

May her feast day be for us both, a time of prayer and a time to deepen our commitment to protect and promote the freedom and human dignity that loving our neighbour means.

Book Cover

Talitha Kum, an international network of Sisters against human trafficking and exploitation, invites you to join an Online Pilgrimage of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking “Journeying in Dignity”, from 08:30 to 3:30pm. (see timetable below) You can follow the livestream on: 

The SMA and OLA Justice Offices have organised an online, live conversation with Mr David Lohan, author of “At Freedom’s Crossroads – making sense of Modern Slavery”.  It will be broadcast live on the OLA Facebook page on Wednesday, 8th February at 7pm to mark the feast of St Josephine Bakhita and the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. There is no need to register, just go to the OLA Facebook page where the conversation will be live-streamed on video here: 

Video of the above script.

JOURNEYING IN DIGNITY:  Please find a timeline of events below, as forwarded from Talitha Kum.  NOTE: CET – Central European time is on hour ahead of our winter time clock in Ireland.  Therefore, please adjust the timings in the image below accordingly – the event begins at 8.30am and ends at 3.30 pm. 

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