St. Josephine Bakhita was born in southern Sudan in 1869. As a young girl, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Captors sold and resold her in the markets of El Obeid and Karthoum, and treated her brutally. She did not remember her name given by her parents. Bakhita was the name given to her by her kidnappers. It means means “fortunate one.”
In 1883, Bakhita was bought by an Italian diplomat. He sent her to Italy to work as a maid to a friend’s daughter who was studying with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. There, Bakhita came to know about God whom “she had experienced in her heart without knowing” who God was. When she was baptized in 1890 she received the name Josephine.
Later, the Italian family came to take their “property” back to Africa. When the family insisted she go, Josephine remained firm in expressing her desire to stay. She later wrote: “I am sure the Lord gave me strength at that moment.” With the support of the superior of the Canossian Sisters and the Cardinal of Venice, she won her freedom and later entered the novitiate. For the next 50 years she lived a life of prayer and service as a Canossian Sister. She died in 1947.
The Vatican has designated February 8, her feast day, as International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. On this day, Catholics all over the world pray to create greater awareness about human trafficking and its victims.
U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) share these stories from survivors of human trafficking. They should inspire all of us to pray for strength for enslaved people, as we work to abolish human trafficking around the world.
“The long working hours made us weak and exhausted… I always felt very tired and much disturbed because the supervisors were scolding me for carelessness in my work. I also suffered from headache and leg pain. I didn’t like working at the mill at all.” —A 20-year-old Dalit girl working 12-hour-plus days at a textile factory in Tamil Nadu, India
“My wife and I were forced to do agricultural and construction work to pay off our debt. Our small children were abused and forced to do household chores. We were all forced to live in the garage and were threatened with deportation. Food was locked up and we were not allowed to eat without permission.” —A man who moved with his family from Latin America to Washington state
“We had no choice. There was nowhere to flee; we were surrounded by the sea. After we arrived back to the shore, we were locked inside the room guarded by their men. The workers had to take one trip after another. There were many workers living under the same conditions.” —A young man enslaved on a fishing boat in Thailand
“They let me know what would become of me if I told anyone. They told me they knew where I lived, they knew my teachers, they knew my school, they knew everything about me. There was nothing I could do to protect myself. At 14 years old, I didn’t know where to begin.” —An American girl sold by a friend’s father and trafficked for sex in Florida