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Bakhita, a theologian of humility

The holy month, told by Mariapia Bonanate

Bakhita was looking for me for some time on the roads we travel together. Those of the slavery that still exists in an Africa with so many open and forgotten wounds, but also a continent that is changing rapidly and that has so much to give us. At last we met. The request to speak to Bakhita, who died on February 7, 1947 in Schio, fostered a close encounter with her that enabled me to discover how much she was present, without my knowing it, in my life. How much her story was to be both prophetic and current. It is one about the thousands upon thousands of slaves of our times, but also of the victims of the trafficking in human beings, practiced today by organized crime for the trade in prostitution. Of those millions of women, five hundred thousand in Europe alone each year - that are taken away by deception and false illusions - to be reduced to a condition of slavery.

Bakhita, besides being "lucky" (this is the meaning of her name), was also predestined. This is reflected in the pages of the small but intense Diary that she dictated in 1910 to one of the sisters “at the wish of the Reverend Mother Superior" of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Magdalene of Canossa, which she entered and became part of on 7 December, 1873.

Born in 1869 in the village of Olgossa in Darfur (Sudan), she was eight years old when she was kidnapped. Sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, she was first bought by a wealthy Arab and then by a turkish general. Daily lashes often reduced her tender body to a single sore, painful tattoos brought her close to death, her breasts were tortured by a cruel and wanton violence. Yet in her story, dictated to the “ brunette nun”, there is never even a hint of revenge or of hatred for the martyrdom that she suffered. While what surfaces continuously is a force that has something of the supernatural about it. A force that gives her the courage not to give up even in the most extreme situations.

Bakhita, during the first part of her existence, does not know who God is, but He miraculously saved her several times. He enables her to meet Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul, resident in Khartoum, to whom she is sold and by whom she is enabled to be taken to Italy, where she is assigned to the family of a wealthy merchant who lives in Mirano, in the province of Venice. From that moment on, she begins to travel the bright path that will enable her to meet Christ, "el vero Paron", as she called him in the Venetian dialect, the only language she was able to speak.

Illuminato Cecchini, a man of great faith and a combative defender of the poor, one day gives her a small silver crucifix and explains that this is Jesus, the Son of God, who also died for her. Thunderstruck, Bakhita writes in her diary: "I remembered that, seeing the sun, the stars, the beauty of nature, I said to myself:" Who could  the Master of these beautiful things be? ". And I felt a great desire to see him, to know him, to pay homage to Him. And now I know. Thank you, thank you, my God. "

A "Paron" so different from those she had had. Not only did he love her, but he gave his life to save her. This is a revelation that she welcomes without any margins of exclusion and doubt. Something that completely fills her existence and transforms her into a creature of light and love, always available with kindness, discretion   and affectionate sympathy, to help those who turn to her. Her life becomes a permanent conversation with the "Paron", and when her last mistress wishes to bring her back to Khartoum with her, she, with a courageous and deeply-felt gesture, refuses to follow her. She who has always obeyed without raising her head, never complaining, even when they were whipping her, performs the only great and decisive act of rebellion of her life. She fights and gets to stay near the Congregation of the Canossian in Venice, because she wants to devote herself to that God who she has known for just a short time, but who has always been beside her. "Bakhita is proof that Christianity can transform slaves, that is people who have lost the sense of who they are, into persons of strength, capable of unexpected force. It is the certainty that through Christ man can pass from a state of exclusion to one of eternal dignity, greatness and freedom. This is true not only for Africa but for the whole world. The action of human promotion by Christianity through the likes of Bakhita is enormous though it is often not detected. A crucial role especially for the promotion and dignity of women. “No one has done more for women than Christianity and Bakhita is a witness of this” wrote Don Divo Barsotti.

The road to holiness of Bakhita is a path available for everyone. It interweaves itself with the most hidden aspects of everyday life, tactful, stripped of privileges and any kind of power and possession, full of small concrete actions, of freely given commitment to the other. Strewed along this journey there are so many miracles that she performed while alive and from heaven. But the greatest miracle is the silent, hidden fidelity, the total abandonment, the human and spiritual greatness achieved by this unknown "theologian of humility" who, with empty hands, was able to transform suffering into a song of love and of joy. Of hope.

Mariapia Bonanate is co-director of "Our Time", she collaborates with weekly publications, including " Famiglia Cristiana" where she writes a column called "good news". She has travelled to various continents in order to meet the witnesses of a Gospel rooted in everyday life. Among her books, Invito alla lettura di Mario Pomilio (1977), Suore (1990), republished and expanded as Suore vent’anni dopo (2000), on which Dino Risi’s film Missione d’amore ; Il Vangelo secondo una donna (1996) is based; Preti (1999); Donne che cambiano il mondo (2004), Io




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