Posted by: fvbcdm | February 8, 2012

Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita (8 Feb 2012)

Eleven years and about four months ago, Pope Blessed John Paul II canonized a group of saints, one of whom we commemorate today, February 8th.  She and another of those canonized on that same day make a very interesting pair because of what they have in common and yet how different their lives were.  


Today we commemorate Saint Josephine Bakhita, a native of the Sudan in sub-Saharan Africa.  She was kidnapped as a child, enslaved by Muslim  slave traders, abused terribly, but finally bought by an Italian consul in that country and brought to Italy, to a kind and loving family of Catholics.  Through their influence, she became a Christian and a Catholic, and then entered the Conossian Sisters where she joyfully served God for the rest of her surprisingly long life, dying at the age of 78.  

While that beautiful story was unfolding in the Sudan and then Italy, in our country another woman was living an even longer life.  She was the daughter of a wealthy family in Philadelphia, was born eleven years before Saint Josephine Bakhita, and died eight years after her.  Her name is Katharine Drexel, and she spent her 97-year-long life doing good with her own efforts and a great deal of money which she inherited.  Her great desire was to spend her life and her money for the spiritual benefit of the blacks and American Indians of our country.  One of her many foundations is Xavier University in New Orleans which began its history in the days of segregation and was therefore what could be called the first and only black Catholic university in our country.  So here we have these two saints: a black African and a white American who devoted her life to the welfare of black people.  And on the same day the Vicar of Christ raised both of them to our altars and gave to the Church and the world these examples of outstanding sanctity flowering from such different backgrounds.  


Last night, I watched a large part of a fascinating documentary on television having to do with the struggle for racial justice in our country back in the 60s.  It focused upon the “Freedom Riders” whose tremendous bravery finally broke the back of legalized racism in the American south.  I found it interesting because I can remember much of those days myself.  I remember when a group of white racists in New Orleans, my home town, burned a cross in Ku-Klux-Klan fashion on the front lawn of the Archbishop’s residence in protest of his integrating the Catholic schools of New Orleans.  I also remember how Archbishop Rummel imposed the punishment of interdict upon a small town downriver from New Orleans when some of its Catholics refused to allow a young visiting black priest to celebrate Mass there on a Sunday morning.  That action on the part of the archbishop created a sensation throughout the country, and sent reporters and announcers scurrying to their dictionaries to find out what “interdict” is and how it affected the town on which it was imposed.


We might well pray through the intercession of Saints Josephine Bakhita and Katharine Drexel for all the kinds of justice and human and civil rights which our country still needs.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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