Modern African saint inspires anti-trafficking work in UK

In 1876, at the age of 7, the girl was taken by slave traders. She was forced to walk 600 miles barefoot, from her village in Darfur to the Sudanese city of El Obeid, being sold twice along the way. Over the next twelve years she was sold three more times. The trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name. Instead, she took a name given to her by the slavers - Bakhita. 

After converting to Roman Catholicism in 1890 and taking the baptismal name ‘Josephine’, Bakhita became a Canossian Sister. She was posted to a convent in the northern Italian town of Schio where she spent the rest of her life. Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity led to a petition for sainthood immediately after her death.

On 1st October 2000 she was canonised as Saint Josephine Bakhita and her feast day is this Saturday (8th February). Needless to say, St Josephine's story inspires our work today. 

As you read this article, Jesuit Refugee Service UK is helping victims of human trafficking. At Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres at Heathrow, their team of outreach volunteers are assisting survivors of human trafficking, some of whom are being held in long-term detention. Fr Luc, one of the volunteers, is accompanying his Vietnamese compatriots:

“I cannot help the question repeatedly coming to mind, “Is it worth to risk your life, to leave behind your family?” For me and for many, it’s not worth it. But if you cannot be assured enough food every day for your family, if your life is continually threatened by environmental degradation, by natural disaster or by your political view, you would risk once to go a place where you are promised to have a better future.”

This month, Pope Francis' prayer intention calls on us to “listen to the migrants’ cries”. He writes: “We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal trafficking, may be heard and considered.” You can read a reflection on this by Fr David Stewart SJ here

To find out more about the work of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, please click here.