Saint Josephine Bakhita

The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita is a journey of incredible grace. She was kidnapped, abused, and sold into slavery. However, what could have been fuel for a deep and lasting hatred turned to be the greatest blessing of her life. By the grace of God and help from some faithful friends she found forgiveness and peace in the Catholic Faith. Her key to heroic sanctity: living her life day by day with Jesus, her true Master.

The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita is a journey of incredible grace. She was kidnapped, abused, and sold into slavery. However, what could have been fuel for a deep and lasting hatred turned to be the greatest blessing of her life. By the grace of God and help from some faithful friends she found forgiveness and peace in the Catholic Faith. Her key to heroic sanctity: living her life day by day with Jesus, her true Master.


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<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Patroness of Sudan

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TABLE OF<br />


COVER<br />

The cover is an artist rendition<br />

depicting <strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong> as<br />

a slave in her native land of Sudan.<br />

Behind her is a slave caravan and her<br />

beloved continent of Africa. She is<br />

holding chains representing her years<br />

in slavery and the crucifix which was<br />

given to her before her Baptism.<br />



<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Flower of the African Desert 1<br />

The life of <strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong> is a<br />

journey of incredible grace. She was kidnapped,<br />

abused, and sold into slavery. However, what<br />

could have been fuel for a deep and lasting<br />

hatred turned to be the greatest blessing of her<br />

life. By the grace of God and help from some<br />

faithful friends she found forgiveness and peace<br />

in the Catholic Faith. Her key to heroic sanctity:<br />

living her life day by day with Jesus, her<br />

true Master.<br />

Prayer for Our Enemies 24<br />

One of the greatest marks of true Catholic<br />

charity is offering special prayer for those who<br />

persecute us. We should pray for their conversions<br />

and help them to get to Heaven.

Volume LXIV, No. 1<br />

Serial No. 120<br />

Our Guardian Angels 29<br />

From the time we were born God has given each<br />

one of us a guardian angel to watch over, protect, and<br />

love us. Are we aware of just how much our angelic<br />

friends do for us and what we owe them in return?<br />

Cheerfulness 35<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> Teresa of Avila once exclaimed, “From sourfaced<br />

saints, good Lord, deliver us!” The important<br />

virtue of cheerfulness springs from our Catholic Faith.<br />

Inspire others to be cheerful by being an Apostle of<br />

Cheerfulness!<br />

Little <strong>Saint</strong>s 38<br />

God gives everyone the grace to become a saint<br />

and saints are not just people whom we read about—<br />

they are ordinary people we come across in daily life.<br />

The Dolors of Mary 40<br />

In expressions of loving devotion, <strong>Saint</strong> Alphonsus<br />

reveals that the Sorrowful Heart of Mary was<br />

truly the heart of a martyr. She indeed suffered a long<br />

martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted her whole life.<br />


Hope 43<br />

This supernatural virtue intrinsically links those<br />

of Faith and Charity while giving us a foretaste of our<br />

heavenly reward if we trust in God and His promises.<br />

Plainly Speaking 45<br />

A word from the Superior.

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Patroness of Sudan

Sister Marie-Celine, MICM<br />

<strong>Saint</strong><br />

<strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Flower of the African Desert<br />

y entire life has been a gift of God.” – This gratitude hardly seems<br />

“Mbelievable coming from someone who had been sold into slavery<br />

and was abused for a number of years. Yet, it came from a soul who found<br />

God in spite of the worst circumstances. In a time when God was raising<br />

up great saints: <strong>Saint</strong>s Bernadette and Therese in France, John Bosco and<br />

Pius X in Italy, Damien at Molokai, He was forming a beautiful soul in the<br />

arid sands of Africa. In an incredible journey from slave to child of God,<br />

to religious Sister, <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong> became an example of humility and<br />

heroic spirituality. This tender flower of the African desert blossomed and<br />

was picked by God to share her wondrous story of grace and forgiveness<br />

with the world. She tells us, “I here dictate some of the events in my life…<br />

May these recollections of mine serve to make me always better appreciate<br />

the great gift God has given to me in choosing me to be His spouse.”<br />

Africa<br />

In the Darfur region of Africa in western Sudan, lay the little village<br />

of Olgossa. It was occupied by the once nomadic Daju tribe, who settled<br />

in this surprisingly beautiful, fertile, and lush area, to become crop farmers.<br />

They were a peaceful and hard-working people. Family values were<br />

cherished and polygamy was not practiced among them.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was born into a loving and happy family in 1869. Her real<br />

name is not known. Her family was considered well-to-do, and her uncle<br />

was even chief of the village. They worked in the fields and were loved<br />

much by the villagers. <strong>Bakhita</strong> recounts, “I was raised by my father and<br />

my mother, with three brothers, three sisters and four others I never knew<br />

because they died before I was born.” <strong>Bakhita</strong> would always recall later<br />

how much she loved her family and how kind her parents were.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


Though their village was far removed<br />

from the other cities and towns,<br />

the people of the Daju tribe were<br />

touched by the fear and harm of slave<br />

raiders. They were living in a time<br />

when kings, governments, moneyhungry<br />

and greedy people exploited<br />

native Africans to fulfill their quota of<br />

slaves to work in other countries. Aside<br />

from internal trafficking, America and<br />

Europe were the main culprits of slave<br />

trade in Africa. It unfortunately made<br />

its way to <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s village.<br />

One day, <strong>Bakhita</strong> went to the fields<br />

with her mother, while her married<br />

older sister stayed home with her baby<br />

son and <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s twin. The workers<br />

in the fields suddenly noticed a great<br />

commotion in the village. People were<br />

running in panic, houses were on fire,<br />

people had been murdered, mutilated or<br />

kidnapped. “We quickly returned home,<br />

and to our dismay we were told by the<br />

little one, all frightened and trembling,<br />

how the marauders had carried the older<br />

sister away and how she herself had<br />

only just barely escaped by hiding.”<br />

When <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s father returned in<br />

the evening, search parties were organized<br />

which looked for hours but never<br />

found anyone. It was a heart-wrenching<br />

scene. Parents bewailed the loss of their<br />

children, families were inconsolable,<br />

erupting in moaning and anger over the<br />

slaughter. People, despairing of finding<br />

their abducted loved ones, turned to<br />

the village witchdoctor. The trusting<br />

villagers, not knowing any better, always<br />

had recourse to his superstitious<br />

practices. In their<br />

present predicament, the witchdoctor<br />

called for horrific sacrifices and gory<br />

rituals. Eventually, however, the people<br />

realized that neither the witchdoctor nor<br />

his demonic incantations could bring<br />

their family members back.<br />

Up to this point <strong>Bakhita</strong> recalls, “I<br />

had had a very happy life, never knowing<br />

what it meant to suffer…this was<br />

my first experience of suffering, and oh,<br />

how many more would soon follow.”<br />

Although time went on and emotions<br />

settled, memories of loved ones<br />

and the scars of pain always remained<br />

for <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s family. Just as one wound<br />

healed, another would soon be inflicted.<br />

Kidnapped<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was about eight or nine<br />

years old.<br />

“…One morning, after breakfast, I went<br />

with one of my friends…on a walk in<br />

our fields, away from the house. Having<br />

finished our games, we decided to<br />

go pick some herbs.” While they were<br />

busying themselves, two men walked<br />

out from the forest and approached the<br />

girls. One asked <strong>Bakhita</strong> if she could<br />

go and get his bundle for him, which<br />

he said was by the edge of the forest.<br />

Her friend was told to wait for her on<br />

the path. <strong>Bakhita</strong> recounted the event,<br />

“I did not suspect anything. I quickly<br />

went and obeyed, as I always did with<br />

my mother.”<br />

“As soon as I entered the woods,<br />

looking for the bundle that I could not<br />

find, I realized that those two were right<br />

behind me. One grabbed me roughly<br />

with one hand while he pulled out a big<br />

knife from his belt with the other. He<br />

put the point of the knife against my<br />

side and with a demanding voice said,<br />

‘If you scream, you’re dead. Now move<br />

it. Follow us.’ The other one pushed<br />

2 From The HouseTops

me, aiming the barrel of his gun at my<br />

back. I was petrified.”<br />

“Violently pushed through the<br />

thick woods, along the hidden pathways<br />

and over fields, I was made to walk at<br />

a fast pace until evening. I was dead<br />

tired. My feet and legs were bleeding<br />

from stepping on sharp rocks and from<br />

walking through thorny brambles. All<br />

I could do the whole time was sob, but<br />

those hard hearts felt no pity.”<br />

In this part of her story, <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

receives her name. In her book Tale of<br />

Wonder, Ida Zanolini, who interviewed<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> later on in life, recounts how<br />

this came about. As the men dragged<br />

the poor child through the forest, one of<br />

them asked her what her name was. On<br />

account of the frightful ordeal and mental<br />

stress she was experiencing, she was<br />

unable to remember it. “Tell him what<br />

your name is!” She could not. “Don’t<br />

waste time…call her <strong>Bakhita</strong>,” which<br />

in Arabic means ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky.’<br />

The three stopped only for a short<br />

time to rest and to eat, but <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

was too frightened to eat. Then they<br />

continued through the night. “At dawn<br />

we arrived in their village. I could not<br />

have gone any farther. One of the men<br />

grasped me by the hand and dragged<br />

me to his home and put me in a storage<br />

room full of tools and scraps of wood.<br />

There was no bed or covering of any<br />

kind. The bare earth would have to<br />

serve as both. I was given a piece of<br />

dark bread and was told, ‘Stay here.’<br />

Then the door was closed and locked<br />

with a key.”<br />

For over a month <strong>Bakhita</strong> was<br />

confined to that little room. Years later,<br />

recounting her sufferings there she<br />

stated, “I still remember those hours of<br />

anguish when, exhausted from crying, I<br />

would fall to the floor, limp, completely<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Raiders destroyed villages and captured many<br />

people to sell as slaves.<br />

numb, while my imagination carried me<br />

to my loved ones far, far away.” These<br />

thoughts of her family, their deep love<br />

and the hope of seeing them again,<br />

would help her through many more<br />

trials. “But alas, when I returned to the<br />

hard reality of my horrible solitude, I<br />

was overcome by a feeling of discouragement<br />

that seemed to shatter my<br />

heart.”<br />

Her captors were Arab slave-traders.<br />

One morning as <strong>Bakhita</strong> was finally<br />

let out from the hut, the pitiful sight<br />

of a group of slaves trudging along<br />

the road met her eyes. Within a short<br />

time, she was purchased by the trader<br />

in charge of the caravan, thereby joining<br />

the ranks of those destined for the<br />

slave market. “They were three men<br />

and three women; one was a girl a little<br />

older than I.”<br />

“Soon we were on the road. Just<br />

seeing the countryside, the sky, the water,<br />

just being able to breathe fresh air<br />


The slave traders had no mercy on the sick or weak in the caravan.<br />

gave me a bit of life again, even though<br />

I did not know where I would end up.”<br />

After eight days of walking, the<br />

caravan arrived at the slave market.<br />

“The two of us who were the smallest<br />

were always close to one another, since<br />

our feet were tied together by the same<br />

chain. When nobody was watching, we<br />

would tell each other our stories how<br />

we had been kidnapped. We talked<br />

about our dear families, and our talk<br />

increased our desire to return to our<br />

families more and more. As we lamented<br />

our unhappy fate, we also thought<br />

about plans somehow to escape. The<br />

good Lord, who was watching over us,<br />

though we did not realize at the time,<br />

gave us such an occasion. Here is how<br />

it happened.”<br />

Escape<br />

“The owner put us in a separate<br />

room and always locked us in, especially<br />

when he had to leave the house.<br />

It was almost dinnertime. Having returned<br />

from the market, he led to the<br />

house a mule loaded with ears of corn.<br />

He came and undid our chains, ordering<br />

us to unload the corn and to feed the<br />

mule. He then departed, absentmindedly<br />

leaving the door unlocked. We<br />

were alone and without chains. God’s<br />

providence–now was the time.”<br />

The two girls took off as fast as<br />

they could through forests and deserts.<br />

Passing caravans and possible attacks<br />

of wild animals gripped them with fear.<br />

Sister Mariannina Turco, to whom<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> told the following incident<br />

years later, recalls, “<strong>Bakhita</strong> once told<br />

me that something happened after she<br />

and her companion escaped from their<br />

owner, on the very first night they spent<br />

in the forest. While everything was dark<br />

all around them and they were hiding<br />

under some plants, she suddenly saw a<br />

beautiful figure take shape in the sky.<br />

Surrounded by light, this figure was<br />

smiling at her and pointed out the way<br />

she should follow. Without telling anything<br />

about this to her companion, she<br />

confidently followed the direction that<br />

this mysterious figure indicated. In this<br />

way, she found the strength and courage<br />

4 From The HouseTops

to continue on and thus they were saved<br />

from the wild beasts. Near dawn the<br />

figure disappeared, and she did not see<br />

it again.” God was watching over them.<br />

The next day the thought of reaching<br />

their families pushed them on in<br />

hope. “Near sundown we saw a little<br />

cottage. Our hearts began to beat rapidly.<br />

We strained our eyes to see if it<br />

was our house. It was not. What bitterness,<br />

how disillusioned we felt! As we<br />

stood there thinking about what to do<br />

next, a man appeared right in front of<br />

us. Frightened, we were about to flee.”<br />

Seeing their distress, he asked<br />

them where they were going. They<br />

answered they were looking for their<br />

parents. Willing to help them, he invited<br />

them to rest. After a short time,<br />

the man took them to his house and<br />

gave them something to eat. However,<br />

the next thing they knew they were tied<br />

and chained in the animal pen.<br />

“Here we were, slaves again! So<br />

much for taking us to our parents. How<br />

we cried, how we suffered. We were<br />

left there for days, until a slave trader<br />

passed through. Then we were taken<br />

out of the pen and sold to that man.”<br />

Kordofan<br />

The girls traveled with the new<br />

slave trader until they reached the main<br />

caravan heading for the market. Those<br />

who were weak or considered a burden<br />

to the caravan were killed, beaten, or<br />

left behind in the desert. Days went<br />

by where the slaves had no water to<br />

quench their burning thirst. For almost<br />

three weeks they wearily followed in<br />

the miserable procession until they arrived<br />

at the city of El Obeid, the capital<br />

of Kordofan. Located in the “African<br />

Uplands” in Arab and Muslim territory,<br />

Kordofan was one of the largest<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

slave markets of the world. Out of<br />

the 100,000 people living in Kordofan,<br />

80,000 were slaves. The slaves in<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>’s caravan did not have much<br />

of a chance to see the city, as they were<br />

herded into warehouses and separated<br />

into categories according to healthiness.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was placed in the best one<br />

because she was a stunningly beautiful<br />

child with a healthy and robust constitution.<br />

“When we finally arrived in the<br />

city, we were brought to the house of<br />

the Arab leader [thought to be the governor].<br />

He was an extremely rich man<br />

and already owned a large number of<br />

slaves, all in the flower of their youth.<br />

My companion and I were destined to<br />

be the handmaids of the young ladies<br />

who were his daughters…The owner’s<br />

intention was to present us as gifts to<br />

his son when he got married.”<br />

She felt a joyous time of peace<br />

here, a welcome change from the sorrow<br />

she had been through. She liked<br />

her new mistresses, and they treated her<br />

almost with affection. She was at their<br />

beck and call whenever they wanted to<br />

play or needed some entertainment. By<br />


her good nature she soon became the<br />

favorite, much to the envy of the other<br />

slaves. Three months passed by in this<br />

calm. One day, however, the owner’s<br />

son ordered <strong>Bakhita</strong> to fetch him a<br />

beautiful vase, which she dropped on<br />

the way. The young man exploded with<br />

threats and in a fit of anger started to<br />

kick and whip the poor girl. The fact<br />

that her mistresses watched on indifferently<br />

cut her to the quick. It took<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> a month to recover from the<br />

beating, and the only slave that did not<br />

taunt or leave her helpless was the little<br />

girl with whom she had arrived.<br />

The Turkish General<br />

It was not long before <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

was sold, for a third time, to a Turkish<br />

general who was passing through. The<br />

man’s mother and wife proved to be<br />

horrible and utterly wicked mistresses,<br />

demanding the superhuman from the<br />

poor slaves who lived in a constant<br />

state of fear from blows and whips.<br />

“The blows would fall on us without<br />

mercy. In the three years I spent in their<br />

service, I do not remember a day going<br />

by without my being hit. The wounds I<br />

received one day would not be healed<br />

before others were added the next,<br />

without my knowing why.”<br />

“Poor victims of inhuman tyranny,”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> would say about the slaves<br />

who, under these new owners, were<br />

subject to the basest cruelties. Even if<br />

they did nothing wrong they were used<br />

at times as something on which to vent<br />

anger. The general once ordered two<br />

soldiers to beat <strong>Bakhita</strong> and another<br />

slave. “I remember how they took aim<br />

at my thighs with the cane, taking away<br />

skin and flesh and giving me a long<br />

gash that left me immobile in bed for<br />

months. All of this had to be endured<br />

in silence because nobody came to<br />

dress our wounds or offer us a word<br />

of comfort. How many of my ill-fated<br />

companions died from the blows they<br />

suffered.”<br />

If only to make things worse,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> and the other slaves were subjected<br />

to tattooing in order to show to<br />

whom they belonged. Unlike methods<br />

of today, the markings were made by<br />

very painful, deep incisions, intended<br />

to become scars. <strong>Bakhita</strong> was branded<br />

with over a hundred. “I could not tell<br />

you how I felt. It seemed I was dying<br />

every moment.” Later on, <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

would remark, “I can honestly say that<br />

the reason I did not die was that the<br />

Lord miraculously destined me for better<br />

things.”<br />

In the wonders of God’s grace,<br />

especially in the life of <strong>Bakhita</strong>, it is no<br />

small miracle that she was preserved<br />

from becoming victim to the filth and<br />

immorality that ran rampant in these<br />

horrible situations. In later years she<br />

would recall that it was through Our<br />

Lady and her Guardian Angel’s protection<br />

that she was never harmed in<br />

that way. “I have been in the middle of<br />

mud,” <strong>Bakhita</strong> recounted, “but I never<br />

got dirty.”<br />

The Italian Consul<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> noticed that the general<br />

began to grow uneasy. A revolution<br />

was taking place against the Egyptian<br />

government in the Sudan. Which up to<br />

this time had imposed slavery and high<br />

taxes and had controlled all Sudanese<br />

trade. In 1863, when Khedive Ismail<br />

came to power as new governor, he<br />

established an anti-slavery campaign.<br />

This did not sit well with those who<br />

made a living from slave trade. Also, he<br />

put the country in debt by misusing the<br />

6 From The HouseTops

The Mahdists’ attack on Khartoum happened<br />

shortly after <strong>Bakhita</strong> left.<br />

funds set aside for the Suez Canal. He<br />

brought in the British to help stop slave<br />

trading. The British became involved<br />

in the campaign and at the same time<br />

offered to pay Ismail’s debts so they<br />

could have a large part in controlling<br />

the Canal. Ismail then appointed British<br />

General Charles Gordon as governor.<br />

In 1881, Muhammed Ahmed, a<br />

fervent Muslim, declared himself the<br />

Mahdi, “the Guided One,” the establisher<br />

of a perfect Islamic world. He interpreted<br />

the actions of the government,<br />

that of Ismail and Gordon, as a threat to<br />

Islam. His main goal was to unite the<br />

Sudanese under Islamic rule, essentially<br />

declaring jihad or “holy war” on the<br />

existing Egyptian government. To Muhammed,<br />

anyone considered a foreigner<br />

in the area was labeled “a Turk” and an<br />

enemy to his regime. This labeling was<br />

accurate because a large majority of inhabitants<br />

of Sudan were not Sudanese,<br />

but Turkish.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

It is understandable, then, that<br />

the Turkish general wanted to move<br />

out of the country. In 1882, fearing<br />

that Muhammed would take his city<br />

of El Obeid, he packed up his camels<br />

and ten of his best slaves and headed<br />

for Khartoum, about 263 miles north.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was among the number. The<br />

journey was long and the conditions<br />

were filthy, but in spite of the inconvenience,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> enjoyed the novelty of<br />

riding on a camel! “After a number of<br />

days traveling we stopped at a hotel in<br />

Khartoum. There [the general] sent out<br />

word that he had slaves for sale.” An<br />

Italian consul by the name of Calisto<br />

Legnani made arrangements with the<br />

general and bought <strong>Bakhita</strong>. “This<br />

time I was truly lucky, because the new<br />

master was very good and was very<br />

fond of me. My job was to help the<br />

chambermaid with housework. I did not<br />

get scolded, punished, or beaten; it did<br />

not seem true that one could enjoy such<br />

peace and tranquility.”<br />

After a couple years, towards the<br />

end of 1884, the climax of the Mahdist<br />

revolution was taking place. Besides<br />

wanting to get away from the tumult,<br />

Legnani needed to return to Italy because<br />

of the collapse of his commercial<br />

business. <strong>Bakhita</strong> remembered, “…<br />

When I heard the name of Italy, of<br />

whose beauty and charm I knew nothing,<br />

my heart was filled with the most<br />

fervent desire–the desire to follow my<br />

master. Because he liked me so much,<br />

I dared to ask him to bring me to Italy<br />

with him. I insisted so much that in the<br />

end he consented. I knew later that it<br />

was God Who wanted this to happen. I<br />

can still taste the joy I felt at the time.”<br />

So began the journey to Italy.<br />

The little group of travelers consisted<br />

of Legnani and his friend, Augus-<br />


to Michieli, <strong>Bakhita</strong>, and a little African<br />

boy whom Legnani had rescued earlier.<br />

They made the trek of 480 miles to the<br />

Red Sea port of Suakin. They left Khartoum<br />

just in time! A month after their<br />

departure the Mahdist revolutionaries<br />

took the city of Khartoum and wreaked<br />

havoc and destruction, carrying away<br />

all slaves with them. “If I had remained<br />

there, I certainly would have been<br />

stolen, and then what would have happened<br />

to me? How grateful to the Lord<br />

I was for having saved me yet again.”<br />

Sailing across oceans was a completely<br />

new experience for <strong>Bakhita</strong>.<br />

Everything was foreign to her–the different<br />

sights, beautiful ocean sunsets,<br />

the cool, salty air. She was leaving her<br />

native land for the first time. When the<br />

ship landed in Genoa, Italy, <strong>Bakhita</strong> and<br />

the little boy were amazed at the busy<br />

port. To see an African boy and girl in<br />

Italy was not at all common, and they<br />

attracted the attention of many people<br />

who wanted to look at them. According<br />

to <strong>Bakhita</strong>, the group “found lodging<br />

in a hotel owned by a man whom the<br />

consul’s friend knew very well and<br />

who had asked him the favor of acquiring<br />

[an African] boy for him. As a<br />

result, the one who had been my travel<br />

companion was soon given to this hotel<br />

owner.”<br />

“The wife of the consul’s friend,<br />

who had come to meet him, saw us<br />

[Africans] and wanted one. She asked<br />

her husband why he had not brought<br />

one back for her and her daughter.<br />

The consul, to please his friend and<br />

his wife, gave me to them as a gift.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> would never again see Legnani,<br />

the nice consul who had rescued her<br />

from the tyranny of slavery.<br />

The Michielis<br />

The Michieli Household in Mirano, Italy. The window of <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s<br />

room was the small one on the left above the gate.<br />

Augusto and Turina Michieli lived<br />

in the beautiful area of Zianigo, Mirano<br />

near Venice. They had three children,<br />

one of whom died as an infant. The<br />

last was a little girl Alice Alessandrina,<br />

who was called by the nickname<br />

of “Mimmina.” The Michielis had<br />

brought <strong>Bakhita</strong> to be her nanny. When<br />

they arrived home with her, the whole<br />

neighborhood came out with excited<br />

curiosity. The children of the neighborhood<br />

were very afraid<br />

of <strong>Bakhita</strong> at first. They<br />

had never seen an African<br />

before–her skin was<br />

so dark! Only the bravest<br />

among the children<br />

came up to touch her<br />

to see if her blackness<br />

would rub off on them!<br />

The news of the new<br />

nanny in the Michieli<br />

household spread very<br />

quickly among the<br />

townspeople, even to<br />

Signor Illuminato Checchini.<br />

Checchini was a<br />

very loving and deeply<br />

8 From The HouseTops

spiritual man who took his Faith seriously.<br />

He grew up the son of a cartwright<br />

in Salzano, Italy. He had been<br />

the organist at the church where Father<br />

Giuseppe Sarto was parish priest. Little<br />

did Checchini suspect that the parish<br />

priest with whom he shared many<br />

ideas, and even played cards, would<br />

one day become the great Pope <strong>Saint</strong><br />

Pius X. Lifelong connections would<br />

be made between the two, even in the<br />

case of <strong>Bakhita</strong>. Considered a trustful<br />

and good family friend, Checchini<br />

would take care of the Michieli estate<br />

when they were traveling on business.<br />

He was one of the first people to come<br />

to the house to inquire formally about<br />

“Moretta” (the black girl). Checchini<br />

was overjoyed at seeing <strong>Bakhita</strong>. He<br />

saw her as a poor soul that God had<br />

brought to them. Although she currently<br />

belonged to the Michielis, Checchini<br />

wanted <strong>Bakhita</strong> to meet his own family,<br />

and eventually to become, not a slave<br />

in his household, but a member of his<br />

family, and of the Church.<br />

Time went on and people became<br />

used to seeing <strong>Bakhita</strong> going about her<br />

chores. Although communication was<br />

hard at first because of the language<br />

barriers, <strong>Bakhita</strong> managed to pick up<br />

the Venetian dialect. Although her<br />

mastery of the language was far from<br />

perfect, people could understand the<br />

happiness by her soft and sincere smile,<br />

or observe the distant pain of past sorrow<br />

in her dark eyes.<br />

In her role as nanny, <strong>Bakhita</strong> enjoyed<br />

taking care of Mimmina. “This<br />

little one liked me a great deal, and I<br />

of course reciprocated with equal affection.”<br />

She would take her for walks<br />

and would frequently stop in to visit<br />

the Checchinis, who always received<br />

her graciously. It was at this household<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

Mr. Illuminato Checchini<br />

that <strong>Bakhita</strong> was introduced to the<br />

Faith. Up to this time she had practiced<br />

no religion, but her reason and natural<br />

goodness pointed her in the right direction<br />

toward truth. “I knew nothing of<br />

idols. I just looked at the stars, so beautiful<br />

as they were, and the bright sun,<br />

and I kept repeating: I love the Person<br />

who made all these wonderful things.”<br />

Checchini was anxious for this soul<br />

to find the love and peace of Christ,<br />

and he knew he had to do something<br />

to help her become a child of God in<br />

Baptism. It was not an easy task. Augusto<br />

Michieli and his wife were not<br />

religious people by any means. Turina<br />

in particular was against Catholicism,<br />

so the mere mention of it, or anything<br />

related to it, was strictly forbidden.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was not even allowed to go<br />

into the village church. In spite of this<br />

obstacle, Checchini was able to show<br />

her some basic prayers and persuade<br />


The Institute of Catechumens (on left)<br />

where <strong>Bakhita</strong> was instructed in the faith.<br />

the Michielis’ housemaid to secretly<br />

help <strong>Bakhita</strong> learn them. “Without<br />

knowing God, without knowing what<br />

the words meant, I had a good feeling<br />

in my soul when I repeated them. I did<br />

not only repeat them morning and evening<br />

with Mimmina in her room, but<br />

also several times during the day and<br />

even on the streets and in the gardens<br />

where I went with the child.”<br />

One day, around the year 1887,<br />

Turina received a message from her<br />

husband, Augusto, who was presently<br />

in Suakin, Africa. He ordered her, Mimmina<br />

and <strong>Bakhita</strong> to leave immediately<br />

and return to Africa to help him run the<br />

hotel he owned.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> had been in Italy for three<br />

years now, and she was now almost<br />

twenty years old. She had become accustomed<br />

to daily life in Italy and had<br />

developed a friendship with the Checchini<br />

family. The thought of leaving<br />

Italy was heartbreaking; for it was there<br />

that she finally felt security<br />

and stability which was nonexistent<br />

previous to her arrival.<br />

Following her master’s<br />

command, she and the family<br />

departed for Africa.<br />

In Suakin her job at the<br />

hotel, aside from minding<br />

Mimmina, was that of barmaid.<br />

It was often undesirable,<br />

due to the rough clientele<br />

who would frequent<br />

the bar. However, <strong>Bakhita</strong>,<br />

always hoping to return again<br />

to Italy, made the most of<br />

her time there. Her simple<br />

manner and natural goodness<br />

were visible to everyone<br />

who met her. “Nobody<br />

ever dared not to show me<br />

respect.” She recounts, “I<br />

stayed there for about nine months,<br />

after which the master decided that the<br />

whole family was going to settle there.<br />

His wife, however, would return to<br />

Italy in order to sell their property and<br />

pack up furniture.” Not everything went<br />

as planned. Turina wanted Mimmina<br />

to come with her, but when the child<br />

showed so vehemently that she could<br />

not leave her nanny, Turina was forced<br />

to bring <strong>Bakhita</strong> with her. “In my heart,<br />

I therefore bid an eternal farewell to<br />

Africa. A voice inside me told me that<br />

I would never see my continent again.”<br />

The Institute of Catechumens<br />

Not long after their return to Italy<br />

in 1888, Turina sold their estate. She<br />

was going to temporarily stay with her<br />

husband in Suakin and come back to<br />

Italy to close up everything before a<br />

final move to Africa. However, fearing<br />

that the two trips would be too hard<br />

on little Mimmina, Turina looked for<br />

10 From The HouseTops

alternative places for <strong>Bakhita</strong> and the<br />

girl to stay in the meantime. Checchini<br />

had the perfect solution. He would<br />

make arrangements for them to stay at<br />

the Institute of Catechumens in nearby<br />

Venice. The Institute was originally<br />

opened in 1557, for the purpose of<br />

accommodating the overwhelming<br />

number of converts seeking instruction<br />

in the Faith. In 1848, the Institute was<br />

turned over to the order of Canossian<br />

Sisters, founded by <strong>Saint</strong> Magdalene of<br />

Canossa. They ran a school for the poor<br />

and offered catechesis for anyone who<br />

wanted it.<br />

Although the Michielis trusted<br />

Checchini’s advice, Turina was uncomfortable<br />

because that they would<br />

be staying at a religious institution. He<br />

would have to wait for an answer. “Mr.<br />

Illuminato [Checchini] was so concerned<br />

that I should be admitted to the<br />

Institute of Catechumens that he gave<br />

his written word on a stamped document<br />

that, in the unlikely event that the<br />

lady did not fulfill her obligation [of<br />

paying room and board] he would pay<br />

for it himself.”<br />

In the meantime Checchini gave<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> a crucifix. “As he gave me the<br />

crucifix he kissed it with devotion, then<br />

explained that Jesus Christ, the Son of<br />

God, had died for me. I did not know<br />

what a crucifix was, but I was moved<br />

by a mysterious power to keep it hidden,<br />

out of fear that the lady would take<br />

it away. I had never hidden anything<br />

before, because I had never been attached<br />

to anything. I remember that I<br />

looked at it in secret and felt something<br />

inside that I could not explain.”<br />

Turina finally consented to their<br />

stay with the Sisters. She and the Checchini<br />

family brought <strong>Bakhita</strong> and Mimmina<br />

to meet the Sisters. “…We were<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

both received at the house of catechumens.<br />

The little girl and I were entrusted<br />

to the care of a nun, Maria Fabbretti,<br />

who was in charge of catechetical instruction.<br />

I am unable to remember<br />

without tears how well she took care of<br />

me. She wanted to know if I desired to<br />

become a Christian, and sensing that I<br />

did and that I had come there with that<br />

intention, she was overjoyed.” <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

was now considered a catechumen, a<br />

person seeking to become a member of<br />

the Church.<br />

Through the help of the Sisters,<br />

the prayers which previously she had<br />

repeated without knowing their meaning<br />

came alive to <strong>Bakhita</strong>. “So those<br />

holy mothers [the Sisters] instructed me<br />

with heroic patience and introduced me<br />

to that God Who from childhood I had<br />

felt in my heart without knowing who<br />

He was. I experienced a great desire<br />

to see Him and know Him and honor<br />

Him.”<br />

This desire increased when she<br />

learned of the grace of Baptism. She<br />

was not able to grasp the idea of it at<br />

first. To become a Child of God seemed<br />

like a completely foreign concept to<br />

her. After years of slavery, of being<br />

subject to horrific torments and cruel<br />

masters, how was it that God, the most<br />

loving Master, could possibly want<br />

her, a poor slave, as His child? So she<br />

thought. With the kindly reassurance of<br />

her Sisters, she would recite in awe the<br />

words of the Our Father over and over<br />

again, slowly realizing the wondrous<br />

miracle that was taking place in her<br />

soul.<br />

The Confrontation<br />

About nine months elapsed in this<br />

state of peace and instruction. God,<br />

Who tests the strength of a heart’s<br />


devotion like gold in the furnace, now<br />

sent <strong>Bakhita</strong> a trial which would change<br />

her life forever. At the end of November,<br />

1889, Turina Michieli returned<br />

from Africa, having finished selling of<br />

their property. Then she came to the Institute<br />

to pick up <strong>Bakhita</strong> and Mimmina<br />

to take them permanently to the hotel<br />

in Suakin. <strong>Bakhita</strong>, used to this new<br />

life at the convent and full of hope and<br />

the love of God, could not bear to be<br />

separated from the place of her newlyfound<br />

Faith. When Turina arrived she<br />

met with unexpected defiance from a<br />

very decided young woman. “‘No, I<br />

will not leave the house of the Lord. It<br />

would be my ruin.’ I refused to go back<br />

to Africa with her because I was not<br />

yet well instructed for Baptism. I also<br />

thought that, even if I had been baptized<br />

already, it would not have been<br />

equally possible to profess my new<br />

religion and that therefore it was better<br />

for me to stay with the Sisters.”<br />

“The lady flew into a rage, accusing<br />

me of being ungrateful in making<br />

her go back alone after she had done<br />

so much for me, but I remained firm in<br />

my thinking. She gave me one reason<br />

after another, but I would not bend to<br />

any of them. And yet it hurt to see her<br />

so disgusted with me, for I truly loved<br />

her. It was the Lord who filled me with<br />

such firmness because He wanted to<br />

make me all His. O goodness! The next<br />

day she returned in the company of another<br />

lady, and she tried to change my<br />

mind again with the harshest threats,<br />

but to no avail. They went away greatly<br />

vexed.”<br />

A series of meetings were to follow<br />

this incident. The superior of the Order<br />

brought the matter to the Patriarch of<br />

Venice, who then consulted with the<br />

king’s attorney general. The lawyer<br />

confirmed that Turina no longer had<br />

ownership of <strong>Bakhita</strong> due to a law<br />

which abolished the bondage of any<br />

slave who set foot onto Italian soil. “I<br />

was in fact quite free. Lady Turina also<br />

went to the attorney general of the king,<br />

thinking that she could prevail upon<br />

him to agree with her, but she received<br />

the same response.”<br />

“On the third day, she returned to<br />

the Institute again, accompanied by the<br />

same lady and by her brother-in-law, a<br />

military officer. Others were present as<br />

well, even His Eminence, the Patriarch<br />

Domenico Agostini, the president of the<br />

Congregation of Charity, the superior of<br />

the Institute, and some of the Sisters of<br />

the Catechumenate. The patriarch spoke<br />

first. A long discussion followed, which<br />

ended in my favor. Weeping with rage<br />

and sorrow, Lady Turina took her little<br />

girl, who could not bear to be separated<br />

from me and who tried to make me go<br />

with her. I was so upset that I was unable<br />

to speak a word. I left crying and<br />

withdrew, happy that I had not given in.”<br />

Child of God and Bride of<br />

Christ<br />

The new year brought great joy to<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>. Sister Maria Fabretti relates<br />

that <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s “preparation for Baptism<br />

was lived completely in the presence<br />

of God. She was happy above all else<br />

to be considered worthy of becoming a<br />

child of God. When I asked her whether<br />

she wanted to know the Lord, she responded<br />

‘Yes!’ I was struck by the<br />

tremendous joy that was inside of that<br />

Yes.” On January 9, surrounded by her<br />

Sisters, the Checchini family, Cardinal<br />

Agostini, and a number of noble families<br />

of the area, <strong>Bakhita</strong> “received, with<br />

a joy only angels could describe, holy<br />

Baptism. I took the names Giuseppina,<br />

12 From The HouseTops

Margherita, and Fortunata<br />

[Italian for Lucky]. On the<br />

same day I received confirmation<br />

and Communion. Oh,<br />

what an unforgettable day!”<br />

The custom for the newly<br />

baptized was to spend another<br />

year of formation at the<br />

Catechumenate. Once this<br />

year passed, <strong>Bakhita</strong> begged<br />

for another. Although the<br />

Checchinis had frequently<br />

welcomed her to become part<br />

of their family, she started to<br />

experience an inexpressible<br />

feeling, that of a vocation to<br />

the religious life. “I did not<br />

know how to explain myself. I<br />

felt unworthy. I was convinced<br />

that since I was of the Black<br />

race, I would disfigure the congregation<br />

and I would not be<br />

accepted.”<br />

Far from rejecting her,<br />

the Sisters were overjoyed at<br />

her petition, and the Mother<br />

Superior even stated that she<br />

would “clothe me with the holy habit<br />

and, when the time came, receive my<br />

profession of vows.”<br />

Her time of novitiate started on<br />

December 7, 1893. From the very start<br />

her fellow novices noticed her exemplary<br />

ways, her great devotedness and<br />

willingness to help. About a year and a<br />

half passed by; and on the feast of the<br />

Sacred Heart of Jesus, 1895, <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

received the habit of the Canossians.<br />

As she began this new chapter in her<br />

life she, according to <strong>Saint</strong> Paul, put on<br />

the new man, who according to God is<br />

created in justice and holiness of truth.<br />

Before profession of vows, it was<br />

customary for those who desired to<br />

become Sisters to go through a special<br />

Pope <strong>Saint</strong> Pius X , when he was Patriarch of Venice, met<br />

with <strong>Bakhita</strong> before her profession.<br />

time of questioning. This was to ensure<br />

that the aspirant’s motives were<br />

pure, and that she was prepared to<br />

accept the duties in becoming a Bride<br />

of Christ. Usually a priest or Church<br />

official would conduct the meeting.<br />

In the case of <strong>Bakhita</strong>, her questioner<br />

was none other than Giuseppe Sarto,<br />

presently Patriarch of Venice. There are<br />

no records of words exchanged by the<br />

two saints during this meeting, but on<br />

leaving, Sarto told her to “Make your<br />

sacred vows without fear. Jesus wants<br />

you; Jesus loves you. Always love him<br />

and serve him in this way.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> did so. On the beautiful<br />

Feast of the Immaculate Conception,<br />

December 8, 1896, <strong>Bakhita</strong> made her<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


profession of vows. The poor slave<br />

whose sorrowful history had humbled<br />

her unceasingly, now was exalted to<br />

the greatest dignity for a woman on<br />

earth. She had answered the call of her<br />

Beloved Paron (Venetian for Master)<br />

when He said to her soul, Arise, make<br />

haste my love, my dove, my beautiful<br />

one, and come! (Cant. 2:10)<br />

Life as a Religious<br />

The story that follows<br />

over the next<br />

fifty-one years of<br />

her religious life,<br />

although not as<br />

adventurous<br />

or exciting as<br />

her journey<br />

from slavery,<br />

reveals <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s<br />

beautiful<br />

virtue of<br />

perseverance.<br />

The charm of<br />

the novitiate,<br />

the newness of<br />

community life<br />

or the fervor of<br />

her first years in<br />

religion never diminished<br />

as years went by.<br />

The custom of the Order<br />

was that the Sisters in the community<br />

were addressed as “Mother”<br />

instead of “Sister,” and <strong>Bakhita</strong> soon<br />

became known as Mother Moretta,<br />

taken from the nickname she received<br />

when she arrived in Italy. Her tasks at<br />

the convent in Venice consisted in sewing,<br />

embroidering, and making glass<br />

beaded crafts to sell to support the community.<br />

Since the Institute was also an<br />

orphanage for young girls, <strong>Bakhita</strong> was<br />

often caring for and teaching them. Her<br />

life with Christ grew deeper daily, and<br />

she made swift progress in His love.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> Ignatius of Loyola once<br />

said,“If God causes you to suffer much,<br />

it is a sign that He has great designs<br />

for you, and that He certainly intends<br />

to make you a saint.” The new suffering<br />

that would come very quickly<br />

into <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s new life would be that<br />

of detachment from those<br />

Sisters and the place to<br />

which she had become<br />

attached. One day in<br />

1902, <strong>Bakhita</strong> received<br />

word from<br />

her superior that<br />

she was to be<br />

transferred to<br />

another convent<br />

in Schio,<br />

sixty-two<br />

miles away.<br />

A Sister who<br />

was working<br />

with <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

at that time<br />

remembers,<br />

“Only those who<br />

know how much<br />

Mother Moretta<br />

loved Mother Fabretti<br />

whom she considered<br />

to be almost a mother to<br />

her, and how much she adored<br />

the cozy nest of the Catechumens’ Institute<br />

where she spent such heavenly<br />

days, only they can understand how she<br />

suffered at the painful news. Yet, she<br />

returned quietly to work, letting nothing<br />

of her inner sacrifice show.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> arrived at the convent in<br />

Schio. It was definitely a time for adjustment,<br />

as the Sisters, like many Italians,<br />

had never seen a girl from Africa<br />

before. <strong>Bakhita</strong>, rather than being of-<br />

14 From The HouseTops

fended, was highly amused at the initial<br />

fear of some of the Sisters. She would<br />

“break the ice” and ease this fright with<br />

her unique sense of humor and witty<br />

remarks. The Sisters soon came to love<br />

her sweet personality and appreciated<br />

her jokes and laughter.<br />

Cook and Sacristan<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>’s first assignment at the<br />

new convent was to help in the kitchen.<br />

This consisted of preparing meals<br />

for the Sisters and those in the infirmary.<br />

She always worked with great<br />

charity, especially toward those who<br />

needed special attention, even when<br />

under stress or time constraints. One<br />

Sister remembers, “We were amazed<br />

and moved by her ministrations, her<br />

punctuality and dexterity in preparing<br />

whatever was necessary, and her gift of<br />

anticipating people’s needs, something<br />

she did without any fuss.”<br />

Aside from cooking for the Sisters,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> also made the meals for<br />

the orphans and students. The children<br />

at first were afraid of her, but when<br />

they saw her happy smile, they immediately<br />

were drawn by her goodness<br />

and simplicity. They loved to listen<br />

to the stories she had to tell, or to<br />

be consoled by her when they would<br />

cry. Sister Anna recounted, “When<br />

she would bring food to the nursery<br />

school, as soon as the children caught<br />

sight of her, they would cling to her<br />

habit and would not let go. There were<br />

five or six who absolutely refused to<br />

eat unless Mother <strong>Bakhita</strong> spoon-fed<br />

them. Oh, how they loved her!” Years<br />

later, one of the girls <strong>Bakhita</strong> took<br />

care of remembered that “her fare was<br />

so well arranged on the plates and so<br />

clean that even the most finicky eaters<br />

were won over. In our simple, littlegirl<br />

way, on feast days we would send<br />

our empty plates back to the kitchen<br />

with some little holy card for the Little<br />

Brown Mother as a sign of our affection<br />

and gratitude.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> served as head cook for<br />

a number of years, and whether it was<br />

over the fire or the oven, or amidst the<br />

pots and pans, “by the way she behaved,<br />

even in the kitchen, she seemed<br />

to be in church,” a fellow Sister said.<br />

In whatever job she found herself assigned,<br />

she would reply with, “Whatever<br />

Paron [Jesus, Master] wants.”<br />

In addition to her other duties,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was also assigned to be the<br />

sacristan. She loved being in the presence<br />

of Our Lord while cleaning and<br />

dusting the chapel or ironing the sacred<br />

linens. It was her special joy to<br />

make sure the chapel was well decorated<br />

and beautiful for Holy Mass. One<br />

of the boys who was an altar server<br />

at the time recalls, “I lived across the<br />

street from the convent, and Mother<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>, who was the sacristan, often<br />

asked me to help her on various liturgical<br />

occasions. I was always struck<br />

by the way she handled the religious<br />

articles with such care, a sign of her<br />

deep faith and reverence for sacred<br />

things. It seemed as though her hands<br />

skimmed ever so reverently over the<br />

white linens.”<br />

Convent Military Hospital<br />

During the years of 1915–1918<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>’s work changed from her<br />

normal routine of serving Sisters,<br />

students, and orphans, and working in<br />

the sacristy. The First World War was<br />

in full force, and the town of Schio<br />

was designated a base for military operations.<br />

In a rather unusual decision,<br />

part of the Sister’s convent was turned<br />


into a military hospital for wounded<br />

soldiers. <strong>Bakhita</strong>, aside from preparing<br />

food for the soldiers, would work<br />

alongside the nurses providing any<br />

care she could. Since it was uncommon<br />

in North Italy to see an African,<br />

Mother Genoveffa recalls, “It was<br />

not a rare sight to have officers and<br />

soldiers standing around the Little<br />

Brown Mother, all wanting to hear her<br />

story. <strong>Bakhita</strong>, equipped with Mother<br />

Superior’s permission, and with a simplicity<br />

that was all her own, narrated<br />

in her ungrammatical language the adventures<br />

and facts that she always attributed<br />

to the Good God, Who guided<br />

her with a special love to become His<br />

spouse. Who paid attention to her<br />

grammatical mistakes? Who laughed?<br />

Nobody. All of them were filled with<br />

admiration and compassion for that innocent<br />

one who had suffered so much<br />

and who appeared in their eyes to be<br />

an extraordinary being.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>’s service among the soldiers<br />

did not stop at just storytelling.<br />

She would tell them about God and<br />

the truths of the Faith in an effort to<br />

help them spiritually. However, she did<br />

not tolerate bad talk or foul language!<br />

“And the reprimands she would give if<br />

she heard someone cursing? It did not<br />

matter,” said Mother Genoveffa, “if it<br />

came out of the mouth of a simple foot<br />

soldier or an officer, she would give<br />

them a warning and then make a point<br />

of exhorting and enlightening them<br />

about eternal truths until the guilty<br />

party promised to make amends and<br />

wanted to regain God’s grace.”<br />

With the same care and attention<br />

of her other duties, <strong>Bakhita</strong> would visit<br />

and console the soldiers, or try to alleviate<br />

their pain any way that she could.<br />

Many of the soldiers remembered her<br />

kindnesses toward them and would<br />

keep in contact years after.<br />

Portress<br />

In 1922, after overcoming a bad<br />

case of pneumonia, during which she<br />

almost died, <strong>Bakhita</strong> was assigned to<br />

the less stressful and strenuous task of<br />

portress. Resigning herself to whatever<br />

Paron wanted, she put her whole heart<br />

and soul into her new position. It was<br />

her responsibility now to welcome<br />

people, representing the Community<br />

to all those who knocked at its door,<br />

answering with Christlike charity and<br />

generosity.<br />

Just like at the Institute however,<br />

it took a while for people to get used to<br />

her. Visitors, school children, and even<br />

delivery men would be surprised to find<br />

an African sister at the door, and at times<br />

would run away terrified or screaming in<br />

fright. After overcoming their initial fear,<br />

they soon found that their “Moretta”<br />

was one of the sweetest souls who had<br />

the kindest heart and the warmest smile.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was very careful and prudent in<br />

her job, and she always made sure that<br />

anyone who visited, even if just for a<br />

short time, left inspired and happy. She<br />

would give what advice she could, with<br />

no fear of giving charitable corrections<br />

to visitors, if necessary, especially with<br />

regard to modesty.<br />

In everything she did she was obedient<br />

to her superiors, kind to her fellow<br />

Sisters, and she was never resentful<br />

even when scolded or provoked.<br />

One might call it almost superhuman,<br />

or worthy of envy, the fact that she<br />

had very few visible faults, if any. Yet<br />

she had a human heart which felt the<br />

sting of a hurtful remark or a misunderstanding.<br />

Though docile and calm<br />

by nature, <strong>Bakhita</strong> was not immune to<br />

16 From The HouseTops

<strong>Bakhita</strong> (top right) with her community of Sisters at the convent in Schio.<br />

temptations and weaknesses. She had<br />

her share of spiritual crosses.<br />

On account of our fallen nature<br />

as sons and daughters of Adam, there<br />

is within us a natural tendency toward<br />

passion and concupiscence.“The saints<br />

all passed through many temptations<br />

and trials to profit by them,” states the<br />

Imitation of Christ, “while those who<br />

could not resist became reprobate and<br />

fell away. There is no state so holy, no<br />

place so secret that temptations and trials<br />

will not come.”<br />

One day she was asked by a Sister,<br />

“Mother Moretta, do you never feel<br />

passions?” “Well, yes, I do feel them.<br />

But when nature wants something, I<br />

tell it ‘Be good and for the moment<br />

be happy with what you’ve got…’ and<br />

then I just carry on. Gradually my desires<br />

subside, I unite myself to the Lord<br />

and Our Lady and I no longer listen to<br />

nature.”<br />

Yet another time the Sisters, driven<br />

by simple curiosity, would question her,<br />

“Don’t you feel anything? You never<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

complain.” <strong>Bakhita</strong> would say, “I do,<br />

I do feel; I’m alive! It’s the dead who<br />

can’t feel, but I offer it all up to the<br />

Lord.”<br />

It was this prayerful reliance on<br />

God that helped her persevere throughout<br />

her religious life and live every day<br />

as if it were her last on earth.<br />

Tale of Wonder<br />

In 1927, <strong>Bakhita</strong> made her perpetual<br />

vows in Venice. Two years later, Father<br />

Francesco Colombo, director of the<br />

Canossian Magazine at the time, was<br />

making a retreat and happened to notice<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> at a distance. Surprised to see<br />

an African Sister, he inquired among the<br />

other Sisters what her story was. He was<br />

thoroughly intrigued and set on fire to<br />

spread her story for others to appreciate<br />

and show the glory of God. He asked,<br />

“Why not reveal a glimpse of this divine<br />

goodness? Why not give us, timid and<br />

weak followers of the Gospel as we are,<br />

an account which might spur us on to<br />

generous sacrifice, to a more fervent part<br />


Tale of Wonder was published in many languages<br />

and editions. This copy is from 1950.<br />

in the apostolate for our sanctification<br />

and for the spreading of the Kingdom<br />

of God: an account which sears the soul<br />

as the very facts speak so eloquently?”<br />

So began the idea for a book recounting<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>’s life story. The superior<br />

general consented to the suggestion,<br />

and Ida Zanolini, a lay Canossian and<br />

elementary school teacher, accepted the<br />

proposal. Ida began writing by gathering<br />

what information she could, but<br />

she soon realized that there just was not<br />

enough to put a book together. So, she<br />

asked for an interview with <strong>Bakhita</strong>.<br />

A person of deep humility, <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

did not like being in the spotlight, and<br />

if it were not for her superiors, she<br />

would not have told her story on her<br />

own accord. “Just order me,” was the<br />

phrase she used to show her obedience,<br />

although she knew the interview would<br />

bring back very painful memories.<br />

On November 1, 1930, Ida met<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> for the first time. The questioning<br />

began and as Ida relates, “I noticed<br />

the trouble she had in expressing herself.<br />

But more than that, I saw the cost to her<br />

of recounting the painfully tragic events<br />

of her life. Sometimes her voice was<br />

choked by grief, especially when she<br />

remembered her loved ones. Sometimes<br />

she would tremble as she recalled the<br />

horrors of slavery.” For three days the<br />

two discussed the events of <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s<br />

life, and even visited places, such as the<br />

Institute, where her life as a Catholic<br />

began. “I will never forget those hours<br />

of grief I underwent as I listened to what<br />

had happened to her…but my most vivid<br />

impression will always be that of being<br />

in the company of an exceptional soul,<br />

of a saint.” After this brief period of<br />

interview, Ida Zanolini began to piece<br />

together and publish her work in installments<br />

for the Canossian Magazine. By<br />

1931, she had published everything in a<br />

book titled Storia Meravigliosa [Tale of<br />

Wonder]. The book practically became<br />

a best-seller! People who read <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s<br />

story came from all over Italy to see her<br />

and talk with her. Once again <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

wanted to hide herself from any attention,<br />

but she received these visitors with<br />

humble Christian charity, prompted by<br />

her superiors to show the goodness of<br />

God. She would say jokingly, “Here I<br />

am; I’m a rare beast!…if they knew me<br />

well though, they would not take even a<br />

step to come and see me.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> understood this cross to be<br />

the will of God; she considered it to be<br />

her little mission at the convent. Little<br />

did she know that her little mission was<br />

to become much bigger, reaching far<br />

beyond the confines of her convent.<br />

Mission Years<br />

In 1933, <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s superiors,<br />

knowing that she had a strong, virtuous<br />

18 From The HouseTops

and truly humble character, did not hesitate<br />

to ask the greatest sacrifice of her.<br />

At the age of sixty-four, <strong>Bakhita</strong> was<br />

asked to promote the Canossian missions<br />

by traveling all over Italy to tell<br />

her story of grace to the other Canossian<br />

houses, parishes, churches, and<br />

audiences. Ida Zanolini recounts, “When<br />

they asked her if she was prepared to<br />

accept this job she gave her usual reply,<br />

‘Whatever Paron wants.’ This time her<br />

voice quivered and her cheeks were wet<br />

with tears, but she smiled.”<br />

Once the news of <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s involvement<br />

in the missions spread, people<br />

would flock to see and hear her,<br />

sometimes in the thousands. People<br />

from varied stations in life including<br />

priests and high ranking prelates, officials,<br />

teachers and students, families<br />

and children, all wanted to make some<br />

connection with so special a soul.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> was always accompanied<br />

by another missionary Sister, Mother<br />

Leopolda Benetti, who had previously<br />

worked in the Chinese missions<br />

for thirty-five years. “My task was to<br />

help her when she could not express<br />

herself properly.” It was at the end of<br />

Mother Benetti’s talks on the missions<br />

that she would invite <strong>Bakhita</strong> to share<br />

some thoughts with the audiences.<br />

“She would thank everyone, greeting<br />

them cordially and assuring them of a<br />

permanent place in her prayers, adding<br />

that she looked forward to seeing them<br />

all again in Paradise.”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> not only told her story, but<br />

would encourage people to pray for<br />

missions across the globe especially<br />

in Africa. “Oh, if only all the Africans<br />

could enjoy the graces that I have had!<br />

In Africa people suffer greatly and<br />

they do not know that there is a God<br />

who can compensate for it all! I, too,<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

suffered greatly without thinking there<br />

could be a better life. How different<br />

things were when I was able to understand<br />

about the spiritual life!”<br />

Throughout her years on mission,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> would greet everyone kindly<br />

with a smile, speaking with them, answering<br />

their questions, or signing their<br />

copy of Tale of Wonder. Her down-toearth,<br />

simple manner, sense of humor,<br />

and humble spirituality affected all.<br />

Even men with the hardest hearts would<br />

leave crying after speaking with her.<br />

She would end all her talks by encouraging<br />

her listeners to “Be good, love<br />

the Lord, pray for non-believers. Know<br />

what a great grace it is to know God!”<br />


Sharply contrasting the large portion<br />

of today’s society, which seeks to be<br />

in the spotlight, famous for some talent,<br />

discovery, amazing work or story, is the<br />

spirit of humility found in <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s life.<br />

In obedience she undertook the mission,<br />

but the burden which the overwhelming<br />

popularity caused her soul was hidden<br />

from the eyes of her audiences. Often<br />

between missions <strong>Bakhita</strong> would be in<br />

tears; some Sisters thought she was ill,<br />

but soon learned what a cross it was for<br />

her, and how hard a time she had trying<br />

to retain her spiritual life and converse<br />

with God.<br />

“Many people will think that I<br />

enjoyed going here and there,” <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

related, “but in fact it was a martyrdom<br />

for me. Wherever I went they loved me,<br />

but almost too much; but I feared for<br />

my spirit, because being in the midst of<br />

all those people was a distraction. If it<br />

were a saint that they could have seen,<br />

it would have been different. But me, a<br />

poor mite, what could I do?”<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> (center) visiting with students in Milan.<br />

Although she keenly felt the<br />

weight of her present assignment, she<br />

saw every situation with clarity and<br />

faith, and met it with cheerfulness.<br />

When people would remark at her<br />

saying, “Poor little thing, poor little<br />

thing,” <strong>Bakhita</strong> would counter it, “But<br />

I am not a poor little thing, because I<br />

belong to the Paron and I am in His<br />

house. Anyone who is not with the<br />

Lord, they are the poor ones.” It was<br />

to these people that she especially<br />

wanted to bring the Faith.<br />

Years after Mission<br />

Following her four years of missionary<br />

work, <strong>Bakhita</strong> resumed her<br />

previous task of portress, now at the<br />

Canossian Missionary Novitiate house<br />

at Vimercate, a city in northern Italy.<br />

In the quiet of the convent she lived as<br />

a model religious, carefully observing<br />

her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.<br />

Her superiors and Sisters would<br />

often remark on her good example and<br />

charity, and other sisters<br />

would come to her for advice,<br />

some of which proved<br />

to be prophetic in a number<br />

of circumstances. This<br />

was especially true after<br />

her return to the Schio convent<br />

in 1939. During World<br />

War II, people would come<br />

to her asking her prayers<br />

for safety from attacks and<br />

air raids. More than once<br />

she assured them that their<br />

town would not be bombed,<br />

and it proved true.<br />

In 1943, <strong>Bakhita</strong>, and<br />

the whole town with her,<br />

had the joy of celebrating<br />

her Fiftieth Anniversary of<br />

Profession. A local news-<br />

20 From The HouseTops

One of the few photos taken specfically of <strong>Bakhita</strong> in 1933.<br />

paper which covered the event, reminded<br />

its readers of <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s hidden,<br />

but heroic, life, “What she teaches us<br />

is that the secret of happiness lies in<br />

duty quietly done, that peace is found<br />

in forgiveness, and that the only things<br />

worthy of our efforts are those that<br />

are just, great, and good.” Her life resembled<br />

that of <strong>Saint</strong> Therese in doing<br />

small things extraordinarily well.<br />

As she aged, <strong>Bakhita</strong> became<br />

increasingly weaker and more fragile.<br />

Soon she was unable to do much<br />

around the convent. She would say,<br />

“Now my mission is this: to help<br />

everyone by way of prayer.” She had<br />

great confidence in Jesus, Mary, the<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

saints, and especially her Guardian<br />

Angel, who appeared to her once<br />

while she was sacristan, and whom<br />

she recognized as the one who had<br />

kept her safe from wild animals while<br />

escaping the slave traders.<br />

When she began to lose her eyesight,<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> had to depend more on<br />

other Sisters. Circulatory and respiratory<br />

problems caused her much pain,<br />

and she soon was confined to bed most<br />

of the time. When asked if she was<br />

suffering she replied, “Oh, not much!<br />

Pray that God will send me the grace to<br />

put up patiently with my suffering. You<br />

have to be crafty in this world and try<br />

to get as many graces as you can!”<br />


<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong>’s remains lay beneath the altar at the chapel of the convent at Schio.<br />

Whenever she was up, she had<br />

such a hard time walking that the Sisters<br />

would wheel her to the chapel<br />

where she would spend many hours<br />

praying, especially the Rosary. Though<br />

people already regarded her as a saint,<br />

she never presumed her own holiness.<br />

“It’s too easy just to put the dead in<br />

Paradise; I’m not so sure…Who knows<br />

where He [the Lord] will put me? Pray<br />

that He will show me His infinite mercy.”<br />

Into Eternity<br />

In December of 1946, <strong>Bakhita</strong> suffered<br />

a severe bout of pneumonia. This<br />

time the Sisters did not think she would<br />

live, but having received the Sacraments<br />

for the Dying, she suffered until<br />

February.<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>, ever aware of her approaching<br />

death, prepared herself to<br />

meet her Master. Sister Fabruzzo recalled,<br />

“She looked death in the face<br />

with a cheerful soul. At the very end she<br />

also said that death carries us to God. To<br />

those of us who said rather that God’s<br />

judgment is frightening, she replied, ‘Do<br />

now what you would wish to do at that<br />

moment: judgment is what we do now.’”<br />

Like Our Lord on the Cross, <strong>Bakhita</strong>,<br />

even as she was dying, practiced<br />

beautiful detachment. To the superior<br />

she said, “Mother, I have nothing except<br />

my books: the Rule, the choir manual<br />

and the life of Jesus. I do not use them<br />

because I can hardly see any more, and I<br />

have given up all my other little things.<br />

The only thing I have left is my Rosary<br />

and the Crucifix; if you want, Mother,<br />

you can strip me of these, too.”<br />

On the morning of February 8,<br />

1947 although she was in a great deal<br />

22 From The HouseTops

of pain and discomfort, <strong>Bakhita</strong>, alert<br />

to the end, joyfully received Holy<br />

Viaticum, the Last Sacraments and<br />

renewed her vows. Sister Antonietta<br />

stated that <strong>Bakhita</strong> had “a special devotion<br />

to the Immaculate Heart of<br />

Mary….when she was near death she<br />

told me, ‘I am fortunate, and the Lord<br />

loves me, for I entered the congregation<br />

on the feast of the Immaculate<br />

Conception, and it is only a few days<br />

now until the feast of our Lady’s apparition<br />

at Lourdes.”<br />

Another Sister who was present<br />

when she was dying relates, “She kept<br />

making ejaculatory prayer, made the<br />

brief renewal of her vows, and when<br />

I let her know it was Saturday, the<br />

day dedicated to Our Lady, Mother<br />

Giuseppina exclaimed joyfully, ‘Oh,<br />

how happy I am…Our Lady…Our<br />

Lady…!’ These were her last intelligible<br />

words.”<br />

After a life of service to God and<br />

others, filled with suffering and joy<br />

alike, Bakita on the evening of February<br />

8th, 1947, at the age of seventyeight,<br />

breathed her last and slipped<br />

quietly into eternity and the blessed<br />

vision of her Paron.<br />

Following her death there were<br />

many miracles and manifestations of<br />

graces received. People came from all<br />

over to venerate “their saint,” and to<br />

beg her intercession. When her cause<br />

was opened, many accounts came in<br />

from people who lived with her, knew<br />

or met her. On May 17,1992, <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

was beatified by Pope John Paul II.<br />

Only eight years later she was raised to<br />

the honor of the altars and canonized<br />

on October 1, 2000. Her feastday is<br />

celebrated on February 8.<br />

What mystery and wisdom there<br />

was in God’s plan of bringing a single<br />

soul from the darkness of slavery to<br />

shine as a light in a spiritually dark<br />

world. She was a soul who very well<br />

could have risen up in revolt, spending<br />

her life bemoaning her mistreatment,<br />

hating those who hurt her and inciting<br />

similar feelings in the hearts of others,<br />

but she did not. When asked what she<br />

would do if she ever met the slave<br />

traders again she replied with deep<br />

gratitude, “I’d kneel down and kiss<br />

their hands because if it was not for<br />

them I would not be a Christian now<br />

or a religious.”<br />

God became the true Master of her<br />

soul and in Him she found the greatest<br />

freedom.<br />

The story of <strong>Bakhita</strong> reveals how<br />

each soul is infinitely loved by God,<br />

and how even the smallest things, if<br />

done for Him, are of the greatest worth<br />

and how gratitude and selflessness lead<br />

to happiness beyond worldly pleasure.<br />

As in her lifetime, she still inspires<br />

souls to pray and work not only for the<br />

world’s freedom from physical slavery<br />

and violence, but from the slavery of<br />

sin and attachment to it. Her life continues<br />

to be a mission and a message of<br />

hope, not only to her beloved African<br />

people, but to anyone who seeks the<br />

freedom, peace, and forgiveness which<br />

only Christ can give and inspire. <strong>Saint</strong><br />

<strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong>, pray for us!<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


24 From The HouseTops

Joseph Clifford Fenton<br />

Prayer for<br />


We cannot begin to understand the<br />

full meaning of Christian prayer,<br />

or Christian charity itself until we realize<br />

the Catholic teaching on prayer for<br />

our enemies. The charity which binds<br />

us to God is strong enough to impel us<br />

to love even our enemies in this world.<br />

The charity which impels us to love<br />

them with a love of benevolence commands<br />

that we exercise the activity of<br />

prayer in their favor.<br />

In the first place, in<br />

order to understand the<br />

meaning of this prayer<br />

for our enemies, we<br />

must realize the true<br />

meaning of the word<br />

enemy. Obviously, this<br />

term does not apply to some person<br />

whose temperament does not happen<br />

to harmonize with our own. Enmity is<br />

far more than mere temperamental incompatibility.<br />

The Latin word of which<br />

“enemy” is the translation allows us an<br />

objective realization of its meaning.<br />

The Latin word is inimicus, obviously<br />

the contrary for the word “friend,” amicus.<br />

Just as a friend is one who has a<br />

mutual love of benevolence for another,<br />

and whose love is such that he wills that<br />

other an important good, an enemy is<br />

Prayer must be<br />

offered even for<br />

our enemies.<br />

one who has a true hatred for another,<br />

and who wishes, efficaciously as he is<br />

able, to bring about evil in the life of the<br />

other.<br />

An enemy, then, is malicious and<br />

malevolent. The degree of his hostility<br />

is measured by the importance of the<br />

good of which he seeks to deprive us<br />

or the harm he seeks to inflict upon us.<br />

It is important to note that the Christian<br />

is not meant to be<br />

the enemy of any man<br />

in the world in the full<br />

sense of the term enemy.<br />

There is, the Christian<br />

knows well, one good<br />

which alone is important:<br />

eternal salvation.<br />

The Christian seeks to deprive no man<br />

of this good. He is permitted, and in<br />

some cases, he is obliged, to oppose the<br />

designs of his enemy. But he is not to be<br />

moved by hatred in his regard. He is not<br />

to hate him in return.<br />

It is possible to consider an enemy<br />

under two distinct headings. In the first<br />

place, we can treat of him precisely<br />

insofar as he is an enemy. To love him<br />

in this sense would be to will that he<br />

continue in his hostility and hatred. It<br />

would be so to act that this man would<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


persevere in evil. This attitude toward<br />

an enemy would be a manifestation<br />

of hatred for him. As such, it is out of<br />

place in the Christian life. It is incompatible<br />

with Christian charity.<br />

Then it is possible to think of our<br />

enemy, and to act in his regard, insofar<br />

as he is a man. Considered as such, he<br />

We seek to aid our<br />

enemies to attain eternal<br />

salvation.<br />

has the same end as other men. He will<br />

find his ultimate beatitude only in the<br />

eternal possession of God in Heaven.<br />

The charity which is the motive force of<br />

the life of grace impels us to act toward<br />

our enemy in such a way that we can<br />

aid him to the accomplishment of that<br />

end. Charity is a love of God which<br />

involves the active and efficacious love<br />

of benevolence for all those whom<br />

God calls to live forever as his adopted<br />

children. As long as any man lives upon<br />

this earth, he is still in a condition to accept<br />

that call. God offers him the grace<br />

and the strength to be converted. We<br />

are expected to act in accordance with<br />

that grace, and that will which God has<br />

expressed in the words of the Apostle.<br />

The love of charity is such that it<br />

must necessarily extend itself to all living<br />

men. If any man is excluded, that<br />

is, if we really make an exception of<br />

any one person in the desire we have<br />

that all be saved, ours is not the love of<br />

charity. We love God with this love of<br />

friendship, and thereby we will the good<br />

which God desired to all for whom He<br />

desires it. Charity is in the will. It is not<br />

any mere act of sentiment or emotion.<br />

Then it necessarily involves an active<br />

and practical will that all be saved.<br />

This will necessitates the employment<br />

of that means which God has placed<br />

in our power for the procuring of those<br />

goods which we are to have through the<br />

activity of God, in other words, prayer.<br />

Our prayers, then will apply to all men,<br />

and no one can be excepted or excluded<br />

from these general prayers.<br />

Strictly speaking, as <strong>Saint</strong> Thomas<br />

notes, there is no direct obligation for<br />

loving our enemies with any special<br />

love. Consequently, since the economy<br />

of prayer is dependent upon that of<br />

charity, there is no special obligation<br />

of particular prayer for our enemies as<br />

there is in the case of those over whom<br />

we have charge, our parents, the members<br />

of our own families, and the heads<br />

of the Church and the nation. We are<br />

not constrained by the laws of charity<br />

to show special marks of affection to<br />

all men, but only those with whom we<br />

have most intimate contacts. And obviously,<br />

the fact that a person has singled<br />

Special prayer for our<br />

enemies is a mark of<br />

intense charity.<br />

himself out by his hostility to us is no<br />

reason why we should be compelled to<br />

show him any special marks of affection.<br />

Yet, if such special affection and<br />

special prayers are not requisite generally<br />

and in themselves, they may be<br />

necessary by reason of some special circumstance.<br />

And they are most certainly<br />

a sign of perfection in some person who<br />

performs them freely. It was an act of<br />

26 From The HouseTops

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

special perfection that prompted <strong>Saint</strong><br />

John Gualbert to receive the murderers<br />

of his own brother into his own friendship.<br />

It was certainly an act of perfection<br />

that prompted <strong>Saint</strong> Stephen the<br />

Protomartyr to pray for his killers. That<br />

was the prayer which, in the designs of<br />

God’s providence, was the means of<br />

turning Saul the persecutor into <strong>Saint</strong><br />

Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles.<br />

This prayer for our enemies is<br />

not in any way opposed to our resisting<br />

their efforts, in due moderation of<br />

course. To balk the designs of an enemy<br />

is to prevent him, insofar as lies within<br />

our power at least, from going on with<br />

perfecting an act of sin. Resistance to<br />

an enemy, which is obligatory when the<br />

enemy attempts to destroy something<br />

which we are bound to protect, can and<br />

should be an act of charity.<br />

In resisting the attacks of an enemy,<br />

we can cause him a certain physical<br />

evil. In this sense only the physical evil<br />


can be, as we have seen, the object of<br />

prayer. In this case, we can and should<br />

pray for the defeat of an army that is<br />

waging an obviously unjust war. Here,<br />

as in every other case, prayer which involves<br />

a physical evil is bound by all the<br />

obligations and the conditions of charity.<br />

It must not be wished or desired out<br />

of hostility, since in that case it would<br />

constitute the person who wished it as<br />

an enemy.<br />

All of the intense practicality of<br />

charity is bound up in this teaching on<br />

prayer for our enemies. The Church<br />

does not tell us to pray for<br />

those who hate us because<br />

they are not responsible.<br />

She makes no effort to<br />

minimize or excuse the<br />

sin of hatred. The point of<br />

the matter is that she tells<br />

us and commands us to<br />

include even those who hate us in the<br />

object of our charity. Even those who<br />

seek our ruin and destruction must be<br />

the beneficiaries of our prayer. The<br />

prayer of the Church itself is expended<br />

for those who strive to encompass her<br />

destruction. Charity, precisely because<br />

it is so important, is intensely practical<br />

and realistic. To pray for one’s enemies<br />

does not involve any self-deception or<br />

hypnosis about the fact that they are our<br />

enemies.<br />

That same austerity of doctrine has<br />

an important bearing on the prayer and<br />

activity of the Church itself. She prays<br />

and works for all those who are outside<br />

her fold. She does not strive to make<br />

them think they are in good enough condition<br />

as they are. She is unwilling to<br />

lull others into a sense of false security.<br />

There is no evil which she abhors more<br />

strongly at the present time than the<br />

doctrine of indifferentism. The Church<br />

The Church<br />

prays for her<br />

enemies.<br />

knows that it is a sorry sort of charity<br />

which would lead a man to think that<br />

he was close enough to the Catholic<br />

Church, and that he did not need conversion.<br />

The good which we seek for<br />

ourselves and others, the good which<br />

the Church seeks in all her prayers even<br />

for her most outstanding enemies, is the<br />

gift of eternal life. The Church knows<br />

well that there is no salvation except<br />

through herself.<br />

It is tremendously important that<br />

we should realize the practical implications<br />

of this prayer. The good<br />

which we seek for others,<br />

and for ourselves, is<br />

eternal life. This eternal<br />

life is something which<br />

God concedes in a definite<br />

way. A man in the state of<br />

sin must do penance, and<br />

there is no other way in<br />

which he will receive the gift of God’s<br />

grace. That penance itself will be due<br />

to the help which God offers him, but<br />

it is nonetheless requisite. This gift of<br />

eternal life is something which God<br />

gives only to those who have had the<br />

life of grace in this world, and, as a<br />

result, our prayer for our enemies involves<br />

the will that these should really<br />

repent in order that they may receive<br />

that life of grace. It is something which<br />

demands the gift of faith in this world<br />

also, and prayer for others involves<br />

the desire and the efficacious practical<br />

will that the beneficiaries of our<br />

prayer should believe the message of<br />

God. It involves the sacraments and<br />

the Church. The prayer which we offer<br />

for the salvation of our enemies, and<br />

for the enemies of the Church itself,<br />

must involve our will that they may be<br />

converted and may live and die in this<br />

communion of the Church of God.<br />

28 From The HouseTops

Raphael V. O’Connell, SJ<br />

OUR<br />

Guardian<br />

ANGELS<br />

The angelic nature, being wholly<br />

spiritual, is far superior to ours. It<br />

is not, then, a matter of course that they<br />

should wait on us, but a dispensation<br />

of infinite love, the same love which<br />

prompted God’s own Son to come<br />

among us, “not to be ministered unto,<br />

but to minister.” For He has given His<br />

angels charge over thee, that they keep<br />

thee in all thy ways. In their hands<br />

they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps<br />

thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Ps.<br />

15:11–12)<br />

In the words of the Psalmist we<br />

find, not only a clear assertion of the<br />

fact that the guardianship of men has<br />

been entrusted to the holy angels, but<br />

the motive also for so loving a dispensation,—man’s<br />

frailty and the dangers<br />

to which he is exposed. These might,<br />

indeed, of themselves have moved the<br />

good angels to sympathize with us,<br />

especially when we bear in mind that<br />

the main source of danger to us is the<br />

warfare which the fallen angels cease<br />

not to wage against us. But, as a matter<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

of fact, it is in fulfillment of a sacred<br />

trust confided to them by our common<br />

Creator, that our guardian angels surround<br />

us everywhere with their powerful<br />

protection. It is not of their own free<br />

choice, but as a solemn duty, that they<br />

are ever alert and active for our welfare.<br />

Thus, if we confine ourselves to<br />

the general statement that by the ineffable<br />

providence of God, the angels<br />

have been deputed to guard men on<br />

their pathway through life, it is, as Suarez<br />

says, a doctrine of faith, for it is<br />

expressly contained in Holy Scripture.<br />

If, going a step further, we assert that<br />

each individual of the human race has a<br />

guardian angel appointed to watch over<br />

him from birth, we are still enunciating<br />

a Catholic belief, not indeed contained<br />

in Holy Writ, nor defined by the Church<br />

as an article of faith, but so universally<br />

received and with such solid foundation<br />

in Holy Scripture, as interpreted by<br />

the Fathers, that it cannot without great<br />

rashness be called into question.<br />

Certainly our Divine Lord says,<br />


speaking of little children: See that you<br />

despise not one of these little ones, for<br />

I say to you that their angels in Heaven<br />

always see the face of My Father Who<br />

is in Heaven. (Matt. 17:10) <strong>Saint</strong> Jerome,<br />

commenting on these words,<br />

infers from them the great dignity of<br />

our souls, seeing that each has from<br />

birth an angel to watch over it. The holy<br />

Doctor argues to the same effect from<br />

the words of the disciples, when Peter<br />

stood at the gate and knocked, after his<br />

miraculous escape from prison. They<br />

could not credit the message of the<br />

portress, that it was Peter himself, and<br />

they said, It is his angel (Acts 12:15),<br />

showing thereby what was already the<br />

common persuasion of the faithful.<br />

Another passage of Holy Scripture,<br />

which the Fathers quote to prove that<br />

we each have our own guardian angel,<br />

is that wherein Jacob, in blessing the<br />

sons of Joseph, says, The angel that<br />

delivered me from all evils, bless these<br />

boys.(Ex. 48:16) In their comments<br />

on this text and on those previously<br />

quoted, Catholic interpreters are quite<br />

at one. The texts all alike imply the<br />

doctrine universally received in the<br />

Church, to the effect that not only are<br />

angels commissioned in a general way<br />

to guard mankind, but, as <strong>Saint</strong> Anselm<br />

says, “every soul, at the moment it is<br />

infused into the body, is entrusted to the<br />

keeping of an angel.”<br />

For God denies to no man sufficient<br />

help to save his soul, and in the<br />

actual order of Divine Providence, the<br />

guardianship of the holy angels is one<br />

of the elements which go to make up<br />

that sufficient help. For God permits<br />

men, good and bad, to be tempted by<br />

the demon, though of themselves they<br />

are unable to resist the tempter successfully.<br />

Hence, He also provides them<br />

with the assistance and protection of<br />

the holy angels, so as to supply for their<br />

insufficiency.<br />

Just as the angels guard those who<br />

have never had faith or sanctifying<br />

grace, so too, they continue their guardianship<br />

over those who have lost the<br />

Faith or have fallen away from grace.<br />

In fact, this is one of those special provisions<br />

of Divine Mercy, whereby God<br />

ever seeks the reconciliation of the sinner<br />

and urges him to turn from his evil<br />

ways.<br />

Then, too, even the just and the<br />

elect are exposed to the assaults and<br />

temptations of the evil one. Why should<br />

not the good angels solicit the sinner<br />

and by holy inspirations and illuminations<br />

seek to bring about his return to<br />

God, or at least prevent him from sinking<br />

to even lower depths of sin? Either<br />

result would be apt to contribute greatly<br />

to the welfare of the just, by removing<br />

from them to a greater or less degree<br />

the bad example of the wicked, which<br />

often has so baneful an influence on the<br />

lives of others.<br />

What Our Angels Do For Us<br />

The most obvious service which<br />

our angels render us is to guard us from<br />

harm. It is implied in the very name of<br />

the guardian angels, and they do indeed<br />

watch over us and keep us from a thousand<br />

perils of both body and soul, perils<br />

of which, oftentimes, we ourselves are<br />

unaware. This they affect either by<br />

removing the occasion of danger, or<br />

by prompting us to avoid it. They flash<br />

into our minds rays of heavenly light<br />

and stir our hearts with salutary emotions,<br />

setting before us in an attractive<br />

manner the good they would have us do<br />

or moving us to dread and shun the evil<br />

which they would have us flee.<br />

30 From The HouseTops

Again, our good angels hold the<br />

demons in check, not suffering them to<br />

tempt us as often or as violently as they<br />

fain would do….<br />

Then too, especially, they offer our<br />

prayers and good works to God. When<br />

we say this we mean that they unite<br />

their prayers with ours, to give them<br />

greater efficacy. Indeed they cease not<br />

to entreat God in our behalf and<br />

this constant intercession for<br />

us is one of the chief benefits<br />

coming to us from the<br />

guardianship of the holy<br />

angels. But while all the<br />

angels pray for us, our<br />

guardian angel does so<br />

with special earnestness<br />

by reason of the ties<br />

that bind us to him more<br />

closely than to the rest of<br />

the blessed spirits.<br />

Sometimes, however,<br />

it is the duty of our guardian<br />

angels to chastise and punish us,<br />

when it is expedient for the welfare of<br />

our souls. Here we must distinguish<br />

such punishments as are penalties and<br />

nothing else, and those which have<br />

for their motive the amendment of the<br />

sinner, and are called medicinal. To<br />

these should be added yet another class<br />

of penalties if they may be called so,<br />

which imply no fault on the part of the<br />

person suffering them, but are merely<br />

trials sent for his greater spiritual profit.<br />

The first species of punishments<br />

proceed, not from the mercy, but from<br />

the outraged justice of God, and are intended<br />

to strike terror into the hearts of<br />

all who come to know of them. These<br />

are commonly inflicted by the evil<br />

spirits, whom God in such cases uses<br />

as His instrument. Yet at times we see<br />

even the good angels employed as the<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

agents of God’s wrath. It was so in the<br />

case of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two<br />

holy angels who befriended Lot and<br />

brought him with his wife and daughters<br />

safely out of Sodom, then brought<br />

down fire and brimstone from Heaven<br />

to consume the wicked cities of the<br />

plain.<br />

It was a good angel who stretched<br />

forth his hand over Jerusalem<br />

to destroy it for David’s<br />

sin of enumerating<br />

his people, and only<br />

spared it because<br />

God was appeased<br />

by the repentance<br />

and entreaties of<br />

His servant.<br />

It would,<br />

however, seem more<br />

in keeping with the<br />

beneficent office of<br />

our guardian angels,<br />

that God should make use<br />

of them for the infliction of<br />

medicinal chastisements—that is, of<br />

those which have for their end the cure<br />

of our spiritual ailments—as well as of<br />

that other class of sufferings, which are<br />

meant to try the virtue of the servants of<br />

God, and afford to others an example of<br />

patience.<br />

Our Guardian Angels After<br />

Death<br />

The guardianship of our good<br />

angels, properly speaking, ends with<br />

death. For at death all dangers cease,<br />

nor is there further opportunity for<br />

spiritual progress. Yet our angel’s loving<br />

care surrounds us still. If we are so<br />

happy at that dread moment as to be<br />

found without spot or wrinkle, if we<br />

are free from every stain of guilt, and<br />

if our debt of punishment for sin has<br />


een fully paid, then our guardian angel<br />

will joyfully conduct us to our heavenly<br />

home. Such is the prayer of our fond<br />

mother, the Church, for each and every<br />

one of her children whom she is called<br />

upon to aid at the hour of the last supreme<br />

struggle. “Assist him, ye saints<br />

of God,” she prays, “come forth to meet<br />

him, ye angels of the Lord. Receive his<br />

soul, and present it in the sight of the<br />

Most High.”<br />

For our own good angel will be<br />

joined by troops of blessed spirits, who<br />

will rejoice at our happy lot, and will<br />

gladly applaud the fortunate issue of<br />

our warfare with the wicked angels.<br />

Hence once more, in the burial service,<br />

as the remains of the deceased are being<br />

borne to their last resting-place,<br />

Holy Church bids her ministers chant<br />

the touching antiphon: “May the angels<br />

escort thee to Paradise; at thy coming<br />

may the martyrs welcome thee, and<br />

conduct thee to the holy city Jerusalem.<br />

May a choir of angels receive thee, and<br />

with Lazarus, once poor, may thou have<br />

rest everlasting.” This is the Lazarus<br />

who once sat as a beggar at the rich<br />

man’s gate, all full of sores, without a<br />

crumb to eat, but of whom Our<br />

Lord himself assures us that,<br />

when he died, he was carried by<br />

angels into Abraham’s bosom.<br />

(Luke 16:22)<br />

We shall not then be forsaken<br />

by our good angel in death, and<br />

if, at that solemn hour, there are<br />

still certain remains of sin which<br />

must be cleansed away in the<br />

refining flames of Purgatory,<br />

some debt of punishment which<br />

we have yet to pay to the divine<br />

justice, our faithful guardian will<br />

conduct us to the place of expiation,<br />

and will often visit and<br />

console us in our prison-home, until at<br />

last our debt is fully cancelled, and our<br />

soul, resplendent with heavenly light<br />

and beauty, is ready to wing its flight<br />

upward to the place of everlasting bliss.<br />

How gladly will he then embrace us!<br />

How We Should Requite<br />

Their Love<br />

Our guardian angel is our best and<br />

oldest friend. He has been with us from<br />

our birth, and will abide with us until<br />

the end. In all the ups and downs of our<br />

life, he has never once departed from<br />

our side. Even our coldness towards<br />

him, our utter forgetfulness of him, our<br />

rank ingratitude, have not been able to<br />

drive him from us. Our sins themselves,<br />

however heinous, have not silenced<br />

his voice of admonition and warning.<br />

They have only served to move him to<br />

pray more urgently for us, to chide and<br />

rebuke us, and to endeavor to rouse<br />

within us sentiments of bitter remorse,<br />

in order to bring us back once more to<br />

the narrow path.<br />

We may choose for ourselves this<br />

one or that one among the saints, to be<br />

our specially beloved patron, but God<br />

32 From The HouseTops

himself has picked for us our guardian<br />

angel, and has given to him a very particular<br />

affection for us, and a very deep<br />

solicitude for our best welfare. Behold I<br />

will send my angel, who shall go before<br />

thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and<br />

bring thee into the place that I have<br />

prepared. Take notice of him, and hear<br />

his voice, and do not think him one to<br />

be contemned; for he will not forgive<br />

when you have sinned, and My name<br />

is in him. But if you will hear his voice,<br />

and do all that I speak, I will be an enemy<br />

to thy enemies, and will afflict them<br />

that afflict thee. (Ex 23:20–22)<br />

These words were spoken by the<br />

Lord to His chosen people when they<br />

were on their way to the Promised<br />

Land. But we know that everything that<br />

befell them was symbolical of God’s<br />

dealings with his Christian people, and<br />

the Church herself applies these words<br />

to our guardian angels.<br />

Here, then, we have clearly pointed<br />

out to us our duty towards our guardian<br />

angel. God wants us above all things<br />

to be docile to His voice, and not to<br />

imagine that we can disregard it with<br />

impunity. We owe him, doubtless, love<br />

and respect and gratitude, but we show<br />

these best by our fidelity in following<br />

at all times his guidance. His voice may<br />

be still and small to those who open<br />

wide their ears to the prompts of the<br />

passions, and of a worldly spirit, but<br />

by one who listens, it can be distinctly<br />

heard above all inward strife, and the<br />

din and tumult from without.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> Bernard, commenting on the<br />

words of Psalm 90—He has given His<br />

angels charge over thee, that they keep<br />

thee in all thy ways—lays down three<br />

duties that we owe to our guardian<br />

angels. The first is reverence, which<br />

the mere presence of so exalted a being<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />

demands of us. If we had an abiding<br />

sentiment of reverence for him, we<br />

should never permit ourselves to do<br />

aught in his presence that we should<br />

fear to do before the eyes of a man<br />

whom we respected.<br />

The second duty is one of devotion,<br />

in return for all his affectionate<br />

love for us. We cannot doubt its depth<br />

and sincerity. It is enough for him that<br />

God has made us in His own image,<br />

that He has so loved us as to give His<br />

only-begotten Son for us, that He has<br />

confided us to the keeping of the angels,<br />

as younger brethren of and future<br />

coheirs with these holy spirits, in the<br />

heavenly kingdom.<br />

The third duty is that of unbounded<br />

confidence in his watchful guardianship<br />

and protection. No real harm can come<br />

to us if we trust in him. He is ever on<br />

the alert; the demons can never take<br />

him by surprise. He is endowed with<br />

heavenly wisdom and will surely direct<br />

us aright amid the deceits and snares of<br />

the evil one. He has undoubted might<br />

to repel even the fiercest assaults of<br />

our enemies, if we but recommend<br />

ourselves to him. We may go forward<br />

fearlessly under his protection, but we<br />

ought to strive to render ourselves deserving<br />

of it, by frequently appealing to<br />

him in our various needs.<br />

There is yet another duty which<br />

we owe to the guardian angels in general.<br />

It is one of reverence for those<br />

over whom they watch, how little<br />

soever and insignificant they may<br />

otherwise appear to be. Our Divine<br />

Lord makes the dignity which comes<br />

to the little ones from the tutelage of<br />

their guardian angels, a very pressing<br />

motive for respecting them and avoiding<br />

aught that might prove a scandal<br />

or a stumbling-block to them.<br />


But if regard for their blessed<br />

guardians forbids us to show contempt<br />

for the little ones, surely our interest<br />

in their spiritual and physical welfare,<br />

whether proceeding from general motives<br />

or from some particular relationship<br />

which binds us to them, may well<br />

prompt us to pray often for them to<br />

their guardian angels, and to recommend<br />

them earnestly to those powerful<br />

protectors whom God Himself has<br />

charged to watch over them, and to<br />

keep them in all their ways. Parents<br />

and teachers who adopted this practice,<br />

would doubtless quickly see the effect<br />

of their prayers in the greater docility<br />

of the children, and their more rapid<br />

progress in knowledge and in virtue.<br />

For ourselves, too, devotion to our<br />

guardian angels cannot fail to be the<br />

source of many heavenly favors, but it<br />

should especially insure to us the possession<br />

of three precious gifts which<br />

are strikingly characteristic of the holy<br />

angels. The first is that of walking constantly<br />

in the presence of God. Never<br />

for a moment are they distracted<br />

from it. They are not allured by the<br />

pleasures of the world, they are not<br />

disturbed by the din and tumult of<br />

human passions. Their gaze is ever<br />

riveted on the face of their Creator,<br />

and their mind is absorbed in the<br />

contemplation of His unspeakable<br />

beauty.<br />

The second treasure which this<br />

devotion should secure us, is a true<br />

spirit of obedience. The angels are<br />

ever ready at God’s beck, and the<br />

accomplishment of His will is their<br />

greatest joy. They will gladly ask for<br />

us a like devotedness, and the habitual<br />

proposing to ourselves of their<br />

example will be a powerful incentive<br />

to us to endeavor to imitate them.<br />

Lastly, the pearl of the virtues, holy<br />

purity, will be safe under their protection.<br />

It is called the angelic virtue, and<br />

the angels are eager to see us become<br />

by its practice most like unto themselves.<br />

The struggle is a hard one—in<br />

some cases it is fierce and unremitting—but<br />

by the grace of God and the<br />

assistance of our good angel, whom we<br />

should lovingly invoke while the combat<br />

lasts, the victory will be ours, and<br />

what a glorious victory it will be! To<br />

have overcome in our frail flesh and in<br />

spite of the treachery of the flesh which<br />

is arrayed with the demons against us,<br />

all the wiles and malice of our wicked<br />

foe, and to have kept intact amid<br />

the most violent assaults the priceless<br />

heritage which we carry in vessels of<br />

clay—that, to be sure, is a triumph to<br />

which we may holily and wholesomely<br />

aspire, and for which we shall remain<br />

forever indebted to the encouragement<br />

and support given to us in the conflict<br />

by our ever-loving, ever-faithful guardian<br />

angel.<br />

34 From The HouseTops

Fr. Vincent Ferrer Kienberger, OP<br />

Cheerfulness<br />

“Thou has compassed me with gladness.” (Psalm 29:12)<br />

Cheerfulness is a royal virtue. But<br />

it is more often found in cabins<br />

than in palaces. Cheerfulness is not<br />

necessarily founded on prosperity. It<br />

is too often the only gift which the<br />

blessed poor of God can share with<br />

one another.<br />

Just now there are sorely needed<br />

those happy faces whose cheerful expression<br />

is the symbol<br />

of a happy heart filled<br />

with God’s love. We are<br />

living in a sad age. This<br />

is not a truism. Much<br />

less is it fantasy. Only<br />

a handful of the faithful have accepted<br />

the Master’s dictum: It is a more<br />

blessed thing to give rather than to<br />

receive. (Acts 20: 35) Conscious of this<br />

axiom, those few have gone out into<br />

the world with a smile on lips :whose<br />

conversation is in Heaven. (Philip.<br />

3:20) As heralds of God have these<br />

bruiters of cheerfulness come and by<br />

example have they dispensed His sustaining<br />

message of help and comfort.<br />

Cheerfulness must be inspired by<br />

religion. Without a religious motive<br />

this virtue is inadequate to bring lasting<br />

good into the lives of individuals. In<br />

the dark night of paganism there were<br />

a few rifts in the cloud that enshrouded<br />

the world. With the coming of the Lord<br />

of Light a new era<br />

was established. The<br />

Son of Man frowned<br />

upon the professional<br />

melancholy of<br />

the Pharisee, and the<br />

drawn expression of the Sadducee. He<br />

commanded those who fasted to do so<br />

cheerfully: And when you fast be not<br />

as the hypocrites, sad. (Luke 6:16) He<br />

condemned the long face as the measurestick<br />

of piety. Amen, I say to you, they<br />

have received their reward.(Matt. 6:2)<br />

The holy patriarch Job has an inspired<br />

message which has helped man-<br />

Cheerfulness must<br />

be inspired by<br />

religion.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


kind for over three thousand years. It is<br />

like unto this: Behold, the short years<br />

pass away, and I am walking in a<br />

path by which I shall not return. (Job<br />

16:23). It is a summons to travelers<br />

on this journey of life to be Apostles<br />

of Cheerfulness. Short are the years<br />

of life and our duty is to fulfill to the<br />

utmost endeavor our high mission of<br />

carrying to the ends of the earth sweet<br />

cheerfulness, fresh from the well-spring<br />

of religion. Though we be commissioned<br />

to preach the gospel of cheer to a sad, distracted<br />

world, it is a terrifying<br />

thought to dwell on the<br />

number of defections<br />

from our ranks.<br />

But after all, we<br />

are creatures<br />

of nature,<br />

and it is only human to be moody and<br />

morose at times. Our remedy is a will<br />

power by which we can marshal the<br />

forces of cheerfulness against the baser<br />

emotions and thus conquer. Unless a<br />

man’s heart be a fountain of cheerfulness<br />

quickening his whole being, he<br />

cannot hope to make others feel what<br />

he himself does not experience.<br />

Of course cheerfulness does not<br />

preclude sorrow. The poet has said that<br />

into each heart some rain must fall.<br />

This is the law of life. Often the heart<br />

upon which the rain clouds of sorrow<br />

hang heaviest are the most cheerful.<br />

Sorrow chastens. Sadness comes as a<br />

consecrated and consecrating symbol<br />

of God’s love. In suffering the brave<br />

smile in spite of tears, for they recognize<br />

that God has placed upon them<br />

the sign of His predilection. Loss for<br />

these is gain. Out of death comes life,<br />

out of the darkness, day, out of sorrow,<br />

cheerfulness.<br />

In the life of <strong>Saint</strong> Madeleine Sophie<br />

we read that in her youth she<br />

was as bright as a sunbeam sprightly<br />

and full of fun. What a reservoir of<br />

cheerfulness upon which to draw when<br />

cares of later life parched her soul. How<br />

pleasant and encouraging to think that<br />

the <strong>Saint</strong>s knew how to be merry! St.<br />

Francis of Assisi bade his friar companions<br />

remember that they were minstrels<br />

of God. Well did they renew the cheerfulness<br />

of the Master in a world that<br />

viewed it, not as prayer, but rather as<br />

hilarity.<br />

As we walk in the path on which<br />

we shall return no more, let us consecrate<br />

the remainder of life to God’s<br />

own cause of making the world better<br />

through cheerfulness. They have<br />

learned best how to dispense cheerful-<br />

36 From The HouseTops

ness who have studied longest in the<br />

school of the Crucified. The crucifixion<br />

of spirit makes for gentleness and cordiality.<br />

The martyrs died gladly. The<br />

King of Martyrs was the most cheerful,<br />

the kindest, the most compassionate.<br />

No disciple in the school of Christ will<br />

lack these very marks of royalty by<br />

which pauper and peasant rise to the<br />

level of princes<br />

and potentates.<br />

Blessed<br />

is the cheerful<br />

heart. The cheerful<br />

heart sees<br />

cheerful things.<br />

But let us not<br />

love in word, nor in tongue, but in<br />

deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). Performing<br />

cheerful deeds ourselves,<br />

we inspire others unto cheerfulness.<br />

Blessed, too, is the cheerful face. How<br />

often has a smile averted wrath. How<br />

often has this symbol of God’s cheer<br />

transmuted misfortune into blessing.<br />

Blessed is the merry heart, filled with<br />

wholesome humor. What a tonic to<br />

sad hearts is laughter. A philosopher<br />

Performing cheerful deeds<br />

ourselves, we inspire<br />

others unto cheerfulness.<br />

has remarked that laughter is God’s<br />

medicine. How skillfully it heals wounds<br />

of the soul. How rarely does depression<br />

fail to respond to the merriment of consecrated<br />

laughter. Thou hast turned for me<br />

my mourning into joy; Thou has cut my<br />

sackcloth and has compassed me with<br />

gladness. (Ps. 29:12)<br />

Thrice blest the singer who “makes<br />

melody in his heart”<br />

and dispenses it to<br />

mankind. May all<br />

worldlings caught<br />

in the withering influences<br />

of material<br />

gain and self-interest<br />

listen to the canticle<br />

of cheerfulness sung by the poets of<br />

God. May the world feel the almost<br />

sacramental influence of their smile and<br />

their laughter. The innocent merriment<br />

has made us forget the “burden of the<br />

day and the heat thereof.” In them the<br />

prophecy shall be fulfilled: “They shall<br />

come and shall give praise in Mount<br />

Sion and their souls shall be as a watered<br />

garden and they shall be hungry<br />

no more. (Jer. 31:12)<br />

“CHEERFULNESS strengthens the heart and<br />

makes us persevere in a good life...<br />

Therefore the servant of God<br />

ought always to be in good spirits.”<br />

- <strong>Saint</strong> Philip Neri<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


Giles Staab OFM. Cap.<br />

Little <strong>Saint</strong>s<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> Therese of Lisieux speaks in<br />

her autobiography of the big saints<br />

and little saints. The big saints like<br />

Paul and Simeon Stylites and Francis<br />

and Peter of Alcantara, show the driving<br />

power of the grace of God. The<br />

little saints are those whose sanctity<br />

manifests itself in the ordinary things<br />

of life. Blessed Theophane Venard,<br />

one of thousands of foreign missionaries,<br />

warmly attached to his family,<br />

and <strong>Saint</strong> Conrad of Parzham, the Capuchin<br />

lay brother who did nothing<br />

more startling than patiently answer<br />

the door of the same monastery<br />

for forty-one years, are what<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> Therese would call little<br />

saints. They manifest<br />

the heroism of human<br />

nature in the daily<br />

grind of life.<br />

Therese herself is a model of the<br />

little saints. As she lay in her last illness,<br />

she overheard two sisters in the<br />

kitchen below talking about her. “Poor<br />

Sister Therese will not live much longer,”<br />

one nun remarked; “and really<br />

sometimes I wonder what our Mother<br />

Prioress will find to say about her when<br />

she dies, because little Sister Therese,<br />

lovable as she is, has never done anything<br />

worth talking about.”<br />

The term little saints can be misleading.<br />

The essence of the spirituality<br />

of the little saints is perfection in little<br />

things; and it is as great to<br />

be absolutely perfect<br />

in the smallest details<br />

of life for thirty-six<br />

years as it is to live in<br />

torture on the top of<br />

a pillar [like <strong>Saint</strong><br />

38 From The HouseTops

Simeon Stylites]. <strong>Saint</strong> Therese’s constant<br />

fighting against a natural dislike<br />

for another sister in the convent, her<br />

struggle to keep awake during meditation<br />

and even after Holy Communion,<br />

her unswerving fidelity to the letter and<br />

spirit of her convent rule reveal the<br />

greatness of being little.<br />

“In my Father’s house<br />

there are many mansions”<br />

was a pet<br />

saying the Little<br />

Flower. Most of<br />

Heaven is reserved<br />

for undramatic<br />

little saints<br />

who, as people<br />

would say, never<br />

did anything worth<br />

talking about.<br />

November<br />

opens with a procession<br />

of saints<br />

- apostles, prophets,<br />

martyrs, confessors,<br />

virgins. Whole books<br />

have been filled with<br />

the simple catalogue<br />

of their names, but by<br />

far the majority of the<br />

saints do not wear the<br />

halo of official canonization.<br />

God and His Church have<br />

singled out relatively few to stand as<br />

milestones along the narrow and rugged<br />

way.<br />

In a letter <strong>Saint</strong> Therese casually<br />

remarked that one of the novice sisters<br />

at Lisieux was a hundred times<br />

better than she; yet this evident<br />

saint has been absorbed into<br />

the nameless multitude<br />

of Heaven.<br />

If Heaven has countless<br />

unsung saints, so<br />

The essence of the<br />

spirituality of the little<br />

saints is perfection in<br />

little things.<br />

has earth. There is too much disheartening<br />

talk today of atheists and gangsters,<br />

or rakes and bawds, and not enough<br />

inspiration talk of the saints with whom<br />

they rub elbows. There are old men and<br />

women dreaming over their rosaries,<br />

and working lads and pretty girls planning<br />

their lives around Holy Mass<br />

and Communion - people in<br />

all stages of life going far<br />

beyond the mere prohibitions<br />

of the decalogue<br />

[Ten Commandments].<br />

Not long ago an actress<br />

died, a star of<br />

stage and screen. The<br />

world knew the music<br />

of her laughter and<br />

the rhythm of her dance,<br />

but God and her mother<br />

knew the fervor of her<br />

daily Communion and<br />

the importance of her<br />

daily rosary.<br />

The heart of every<br />

man has the same<br />

longing for the things<br />

of God as the heart of<br />

every saint. The saints<br />

cast aside with an endless<br />

struggle all things<br />

that obscured the bright blue of the sky.<br />

The grace of God is not dead, but the<br />

Holy Spirit continues to breathe where<br />

He will. The fight for sanctity goes on<br />

and on, sometimes in the most unlikely<br />

places and professions. God in His<br />

providence made apostles<br />

of fishermen, and<br />

He can make saints of<br />

dancers and mechanics.<br />

Heaven will be full of<br />

surprises.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


<strong>Saint</strong> Alphonsus<br />

The Dolors<br />

of Mary<br />

As Jesus is called the King of sorrows<br />

and the King of martyrs,<br />

because He suffered in His life more<br />

than all other martyrs; so also is Mary<br />

with reason called the<br />

Queen of martyrs,<br />

having merited this<br />

title by suffering the<br />

most cruel martyrdom<br />

possible after that of<br />

her Son. Hence with<br />

reason was she called<br />

by Richard of St. Laurence,<br />

the “Martyr of<br />

martyrs”; and of her can the words of<br />

Isaias with all truth be said, He will<br />

crown thee with a crown of tribulation<br />

(Is. 22:16); that is to say, that that suffering<br />

itself, which exceeded the suffering<br />

of all the other martyrs united,<br />

Mary was a<br />

martyr not by the<br />

sword of the<br />

executioner, but<br />

by bitter sorrow<br />

of heart.<br />

was the crown by which she was shown<br />

to be the Queen of martyrs.<br />

That Mary was a true martyr cannot<br />

be doubted, as Denis the Carthusian,<br />

Pelbart, Catharinus,<br />

and others prove; for it<br />

is an undoubted opinion<br />

that suffering sufficient<br />

to cause death<br />

is martyrdom, even<br />

though death does not<br />

ensue from it. <strong>Saint</strong><br />

John the Evangelist is<br />

revered as a martyr,<br />

though he did not die in the cauldron of<br />

boiling oil, but came out more vigorous<br />

than when he went in. <strong>Saint</strong> Thomas<br />

says, “that to have the glory of martyrdom,<br />

it is sufficient to exercise obedience<br />

in its highest degree, that is to<br />

40 From The HouseTops

e obedient unto death.” “Mary was<br />

a martyr,” says <strong>Saint</strong> Bernard, “not<br />

by the sword of the executioner, but<br />

by bitter sorrow of heart.” If her body<br />

was not wounded by the hand of the<br />

executioner, her blessed heart was<br />

transfixed by a sword of grief at the<br />

Passion of her Son, grief which was<br />

sufficient to cause her death not once<br />

but a thousand times. From this we<br />

shall see that Mary was<br />

not only a real martyr,<br />

but that her martyrdom<br />

surpassed all others,<br />

and her whole life may<br />

be said to have been a<br />

prolonged death.<br />

“The Passion of<br />

Jesus,” as <strong>Saint</strong> Bernard says, “began<br />

with His birth.” So also did Mary, in<br />

all things like unto her Son, endure<br />

her martyrdom throughout her life.<br />

Amongst other significations<br />

of the name of<br />

Mary, as <strong>Saint</strong> Albert the<br />

Great asserts, is that of<br />

“bitter sea.” Hence to her<br />

is applicable the text of<br />

Jeremias: Great as the<br />

sea is thy destruction.<br />

For as the sea is all bitter<br />

and salt, so was the life<br />

of Mary all bitterness at<br />

the sight of the Passion<br />

of the Redeemer, which<br />

was ever present to her<br />

mind. “There can be no<br />

doubt, that, enlightened<br />

by the Holy Ghost in a<br />

far higher degree than all<br />

the prophets, she, far better<br />

than they, understood<br />

the predictions recorded<br />

by them in the Sacred<br />

Scriptures concerning<br />

the Messias.” This is precisely what<br />

the angel revealed to <strong>Saint</strong> Bridget, and<br />

he also added, “that the Blessed Virgin,<br />

even before she became His Mother,<br />

knowing how much the Incarnate Word<br />

was to suffer for the salvation of men,<br />

and compassionating this innocent<br />

Saviour, Who was to be so cruelly put<br />

to death for crimes not His own, even<br />

then began her great martyrdom.”<br />

Her grief<br />

was immeasurably<br />

increased<br />

when she became<br />

the Mother of this<br />

Saviour; so that,<br />

at the sad sight<br />

of the many torments<br />

that were to be endured by her<br />

poor Son, she indeed suffered a long<br />

martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted<br />

her whole life. This was signified with<br />

Her blessed heart<br />

was transfixed by a<br />

sword of grief at the<br />

Passion of her Son.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


great exactitude to <strong>Saint</strong> Bridget in a<br />

vision which she had in Rome, in the<br />

Church of <strong>Saint</strong> Mary Major, where<br />

the Blessed Virgin, with <strong>Saint</strong> Simeon,<br />

and an angel bearing a very long sword,<br />

reddened with blood appeared to her,<br />

denoting thereby the long and bitter<br />

grief which transpierced the<br />

heart of Mary during her<br />

whole life. Whence<br />

the above-named Rupert<br />

supposes Mary<br />

thus speaking: “Redeemed<br />

souls, and<br />

my beloved children,<br />

do not pity<br />

me only for the hour<br />

in which I beheld my<br />

dear Jesus expiring before<br />

my eyes; for the sword<br />

of sorrow predicted by Simeon<br />

pierced my soul during the whole of<br />

my life; when I was<br />

nursing my Son,<br />

when I was warming<br />

him in my arms,<br />

I already foresaw<br />

the bitter death that<br />

awaited Him. Consider<br />

then, what long<br />

and bitter sorrows I must have endured.”<br />

Wherefore Mary might well say, in<br />

the words of David, My life is wasted<br />

with grief, and my years in sighs. My<br />

sorrow is continually before me. “My<br />

whole life was spent in sorrow and<br />

tears; for my sorrow, which was compassion<br />

for my Son, never departed<br />

from before my eyes, as I always foresaw<br />

the sufferings and death which<br />

She indeed suffered<br />

a long martyrdom,<br />

a martyrdom which<br />

lasted her whole life.<br />

He was one day to endure.” The divine<br />

Mother herself revealed to <strong>Saint</strong><br />

Bridget, that, “even after the death and<br />

ascension of her Son, whether she ate<br />

or worked, the remembrance of His<br />

Passion was ever deeply impressed on<br />

her mind, and fresh in her most tender<br />

heart.” Hence Tauler says, “that<br />

the most Blessed Virgin spent<br />

her whole life in continual<br />

sorrow;” for her heart<br />

was always occupied<br />

with sadness and with<br />

suffering.<br />

Therefore time,<br />

which usually mitigates<br />

the sorrows of<br />

the afflicted, did not relieve<br />

Mary; nay, even it<br />

increased her sorrows; for,<br />

as Jesus, on the one hand, advanced<br />

in age, and always appeared more and<br />

more beautiful and<br />

amiable; so also, on<br />

the other hand, the<br />

time of His death always<br />

drew nearer,<br />

and grief always<br />

increased in the<br />

heart of Mary, at the<br />

thought of having to lose Him on earth.<br />

So that, in the words addressed to <strong>Saint</strong><br />

Bridget: “As the rose grows up amongst<br />

thorns, so the Mother of God advanced<br />

in years in the midst of suffering: and<br />

as the thorns increase with the growth<br />

of the rose, so also did the thorns of her<br />

sorrows increase in Mary, the chosen<br />

Rose of the Lord, as she advanced in<br />

age; and so much more deeply did they<br />

pierce her heart.”<br />

Mother of Sorrows, pray for us!<br />

42 From The HouseTops

Hope<br />

Abbé<br />

All our dogmas are closely connected<br />

with one another, and God<br />

is the beginning and end, the author<br />

and surety of them all. <strong>Saint</strong> Paul puts<br />

faith and hope together when he says,<br />

Faith is the substance of things to be<br />

hoped for. (Heb. 11:1) He means that<br />

just as no building can stand firm without<br />

a foundation, so it is impossible<br />

for us to have true hope of life eternal<br />

without faith. Faith and hope together<br />

give birth to charity.<br />

This fact alone should suffice not<br />

only to show the immense importance<br />

of hope, but also to convince us that<br />

the three theological virtues of faith,<br />

hope, and charity, are inseparable from<br />

one another, and indispensable to all<br />

who desire to please God and work out<br />

their own salvation.<br />

Hope stands between faith and<br />

charity, like the stalk connecting the<br />

root and the ripe ear of corn. It is at<br />

once the reward of the one, and the<br />

source of the other, or, rather, it is true<br />

to say that these three virtues are so interlaced<br />

that they borrow strength and<br />

life from one another. Without hope,<br />

faith would be useless, for in Christian<br />

hope faith reaches its full development,<br />

and together they become the firm<br />

foundation of charity; they are the<br />

root and sap of the love of God in<br />

our hearts, and the stronger they<br />

are, the more ardent is the love<br />

that they produce.<br />

Where there is no faith,<br />

DuHaut<br />

there can be no supernatural hope, and,<br />

as <strong>Saint</strong> Augustine says, if these two<br />

theological virtues are absent, it is quite<br />

useless to look for the third. How could<br />

we possibly hope in God if we had no<br />

faith in His existence? Or love Him,<br />

unless we knew Him to be supremely<br />

worthy of our love, and ready to reward<br />

those who honor Him? Faith and hope<br />

must lead on to love, and are absolutely<br />

necessary to it; we do not love what we<br />

cannot hope to obtain, since our natural<br />

pride makes us reject what is out of our<br />

reach.<br />

Without hope, faith<br />

would be useless, for in<br />

Christian hope faith reaches<br />

its full development.<br />

We love God because we hope in<br />

His goodness, and supernatural hope<br />

encourages the soul to regard its salvation<br />

as sure, for we are saved by hope.<br />

(Rom. 8:24) <strong>Saint</strong> Augustine says that<br />

hope is love expectant, and no better<br />

definition can be given of this virtue,<br />

which enables us to have a foretaste<br />

of Heaven here below if we trust in<br />

God’s promises.<br />

Hope, then, though inferior to<br />

charity, is superior to faith, being<br />

more than the germ or origin of<br />

future benefits, for it makes us,<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong><br />


in a certain degree, members of Christ<br />

here on earth. Faith reveals God to<br />

us that we may turn to Him, but hope<br />

tends to unite us with Him, and charity<br />

actually effects this union, which is the<br />

supreme aim of all our Christian life.<br />

Without charity, faith and hope would<br />

be deprived of their perfection, and<br />

would remain incomplete and unsatisfied.<br />

Charity is their crown, the full<br />

realization of all the desires to which<br />

they give rise in our hearts. The heart of<br />

man can never find peace unless it rests<br />

in God, and it is equally true to say that<br />

the other virtues are aimless and restless<br />

until they are bound fast to charity.<br />

Every other virtue has to guard<br />

against excess; for instance, faith may<br />

degenerate into credulity, and hope into<br />

presumption, but charity need fear no<br />

exaggeration, but may ever increase,<br />

since the measure of our love of God is<br />

infinity, for He is infinite.<br />

He is eternal, and charity, too,<br />

never falls away, although the other<br />

virtues necessarily have an end. Faith,<br />

after guiding us through the darkness of<br />

this life, will no longer be needed when<br />

the last great day dawns in all its splendor.<br />

Hope, too, will pass away when<br />

we cross the threshold of our heavenly<br />

home. Both will vanish and give place<br />

to light that knows no shadow and happiness<br />

without alloy, but charity will remain<br />

forever, and will never fall away.<br />

Under the influence of their passions,<br />

men often deny everything, even<br />

the existence of God and the soul; but<br />

still it is impossible for them to stifle all<br />

idea of future and eternal happiness,<br />

since this belief is not so much an<br />

instinct as an indelible mark, set<br />

upon His creatures by the hand of<br />

God, the Ruler of Heaven, of<br />

earth, and of eternity.<br />

There is something within us that<br />

makes us turn to God, and aim at infinite<br />

happiness, and we cannot resist this tendency<br />

any more than the magnetic needle<br />

can help pointing to the North. God Himself<br />

planted this instinct in our hearts,<br />

and it is a sort of confused but assured<br />

remembrance of the state from which we<br />

have fallen and of that towards which we<br />

aim. Lacordaire, the famous Dominican<br />

preacher, was right when he said, “Men<br />

did not invent God and Heaven. If God<br />

did not exist, man would never have<br />

thought of Him, but when we aspire to<br />

Heaven, it is to our native land.”<br />

Our daily disappointments deaden<br />

many feelings within us, yet they are<br />

unable to destroy the idea of happiness<br />

long lost, but still to be regained, and<br />

this really is a proof of its existence, for<br />

we should never all agree in imagining<br />

a thing that does not and never will<br />

exist. All, without exception, ignorant<br />

and learned alike, share this feeling,<br />

and look forward to a state of happiness<br />

greater than that which they now enjoy.<br />

When iron is moved and powerfully<br />

attracted, we assume that a magnet<br />

is present, though we may not see it;<br />

and, in the same way, our unreasoning<br />

craving for future happiness proves its<br />

existence. Everything shows us that human<br />

happiness, being as it is short-lived,<br />

uncertain, and ready to vanish at any<br />

moment, however solid it may appear,<br />

cannot be the final end which God had<br />

in view at our creation. His greatness, as<br />

our own inner consciousness tells us, is<br />

incompatible with so poor and wretched<br />

and aim. A love that is all-powerful,<br />

as is His love for us, must needs<br />

have in store for us gifts far beyond<br />

those that this world can offer, and<br />

glory far exceeding the gloom<br />

that now surrounds us.<br />

44 From The HouseTops

Dear Friends,<br />

When it comes to the debated<br />

mystery of salvation, <strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Josephine</strong><br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong> is a perfect example of how<br />

the mythical “invincibly” ignorant native is not outside the providence of God. He can use<br />

the most adverse circumstances to bring about good. With God all things are possible.<br />

In the opening of the Gospel of <strong>Saint</strong> John, the Evangelist tells us that God made all<br />

things, beginning with light. As the sun, moon, and stars give light to all, so too, does He<br />

“enlighten every man that comes into this world.”<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong>, born in a remote part of Africa, captured and sold into slavery at an<br />

early age, had never heard the Gospel. Rather, she was surrounded by the darkness of<br />

paganism and Islam. Nevertheless, she was enlightened by the wonders of God’s creation.<br />

“I knew nothing of idols,” she relates, “I just looked at the stars, so beautiful as they were,<br />

and the bright sun and I kept repeating: I love the Person who made all these wonderful<br />

things.”<br />

Furthermore, our saint obeyed the moral law of God which is written in the heart of<br />

every man and kept herself modest and pure. And in return, although she was severely<br />

mistreated by beatings and whippings, God, in His Divine Providence, never allowed her<br />

purity to be violated.<br />

Another article in this issue, explains how God gives everyone without exception a<br />

Guardian Angel at birth. These angels are not merely passive onlookers but they actually<br />

guard, guide, and inspire us with good thoughts. <strong>Bakhita</strong>, even while still a pagan, saw her<br />

Guardian Angel who saved her from death as she fled from her captors through the jungle.<br />

Certainly God, Who knows the number of hairs on our head, is not far from anyone<br />

and approaches ever closer to those who seek Him—the True Light. So it was with<br />

<strong>Bakhita</strong>. But there are those who, as <strong>Saint</strong> Augustine says, love the lusts of darkness<br />

which make them blind.<br />

<strong>Saint</strong> <strong>Bakhita</strong> was faithful to the actual graces given to her and God was merciful to<br />

her, as she never tired of relating in her Tale of Wonder. God showed His Mercy not by<br />

sending a missionary, to teach and baptize her, but in a very different way. He used her<br />

slavery as the means leading to salvation. The Faith was not brought to her in Africa but<br />

she was brought in servitude to the Faith in Catholic Italy.<br />

As a true saint, she not only forgave her former captors but believed them to be her<br />

true benefactors. If she were ever to meet them she said, “I would kneel down and kiss<br />

their hands because if it were not for them I would not be a Christian now or a religious.”<br />

Such is a real life story—rather than human speculation—of God’s providence, His<br />

loving mercy, and how he brings those of good will to peace and salvation.<br />

In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,<br />


saintbenedict.com<br />


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