external arrow pointing right logo mark logo full version logo in single color arrow pointing down \ facebook logo instagram logo twitter logo flicker logo search icon navigation expand button close

Two models of justice

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

At a time when we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for his extraordinary work in bending our nation toward justice, we want to hold up a lesser-known person who embodied the same tradition decades before King. Introducing St. Josephine Bakhita.

St. Josephine Bakhita, born in the Darfur region of Sudan in 1869, is not a household name in Oregon. But her life was a milestone in recognizing the dignity of every human being.

St. Josephine was kidnapped by slave traders at age 9 and suffered for many years as an abused and tortured slave, first in Africa and then Italy.

When one of the Italian families who owned her was moving, she stayed for a time with nuns who taught her that she was created in the image of God and possessed inherent human dignity.

When her Italian owner wanted to relocate her again, St. Josephine refused. Her case went to the courts, where judges ruled that she — and others like her — had been free from the moment they arrived in Italy. In fighting for justice for herself, St. Josephine destroyed publicly accepted slavery in Italy.

To win her complete freedom and, later, entrance into the convent as a nun, she had to again fight racism and injustice in the courts of Italy. After everything she had endured, she finally became a Daughter of Charity in 1896. She went on to become a beloved nun who brought kindness and compassion to many children and adults.

She is best known for her forgiveness of those who beat and ritually scarred her. Recalled for her gentleness, calm voice and steadfast smile, she is the patron saint of Sudan and human trafficking survivors. She died in 1947, carrying the wounds of slavery but at profound peace.

It’s not lost on us that many of our clients have navigated trials like St. Josephine faced. Refugees come to us having escaped violent peril in Sudan and elsewhere. Even our domestic clients contend with racism and unfair bias based on their national origin, citizenship status or income level.

St. Josephine once said, “It is an act of justice for the rich to help the poor.”

Both she and Rev. King believed that Jesus brought great dignity to all simply by being God-become-human. Both embraced Christian nonviolence. Both wanted a world where all are equally valued and everyone can flourish.

We note that their ideas are reflected in our own agency’s vison statement:

“Catholic Charities of Oregon envisions a society in which all people thrive economically, socially, and spiritually; cultivate diverse, respectful, and just communities; and recognize the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life.”

With these two inspiring models, we can all work together to, as Rev. King put it, “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”