Saturday 8th February is the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. On this day we are called and encouraged by Pope Francis to pray for all those affected by the crimes of modern slavery and human trafficking. Through prayer, we not only reflect on the experiences of those that have suffered through this affront to human dignity, but also comfort, strengthen, and help empower survivors.
Through our work in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres at Heathrow, our team of outreach volunteers have encountered a number of men who are survivors of human trafficking, yet are still being held in detention. Fr Luc, one of our detention volunteers, reflects on accompanying his fellow Vietnamese countrymen in detention, many of whom have fallen victim to trusting traffickers:
“It is through short conversations in the welfare at Colnbrook, where over time we build up a relationship and space of trust. My fellow countrymen begin to share more of themselves. 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.”
If you’d like to accompany those in detention through prayer regularly, sign-up to receive a monthly prayer e-mail from JRS UK.
You can find some great resources below to support your prayer, reflection and celebration for St Josephine Bakhita Day as we strive together to combat human trafficking and modern slavery.
- The Santa Marta Group
- Website for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking
- The Migrants and Refugees Section at the Vatican
Please do keep the men JRS accompany in detention in your prayers this Saturday.
Who was Josephine Bakhita?
St Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Olgossa, Darfur, Sudan. She was kidnapped by Arab slave traders at the age of nine and sold into slavery. Such was the trauma experienced that she forgot her birth name was named ‘Bakhita’ by her kidnappers, meaning “lucky”. She endured years of cruelty, physical and mental torture, and bore 144 physical scars throughout her life. Eventually she was sold to an Italian consul who planned to free her. He took her to Italy, where she worked as a nanny for another family. In 1889 she won her freedom in court. She was baptized Josephine, and received into the Catholic Church in 1890, joining the Canossian sisters and making final profession in 1896. She served her order in Italy for more than 50 years as a cook, seamstress and doorkeeper. Her constant smile won people’s hearts, as did her humility and simplicity. Surrounded by the sisters, she died on 8 February 1947. She was beatified in May 1992, and subsequently canonised in October 2000.