Members of the local Sudanese Catholic community gathered in Melbourne parishes over the weekend to celebrate the feast of St Josephine Bakhita. At St Anthony’s in Noble Park, Bishop Anthony Ireland celebrated Mass, where parishioners young and old came together for a vibrant celebration with special prayers and music.

Bishop Ireland praised the community for their continued faith and devotion to their country’s patron. ‘Thank you for being here to give glory and praise to God and to venerate the saint of the Sudanese people.’

St Josephine is the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Born in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, she was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. In 1883, she was sold to an Italian consul, who took her to Italy, where she encountered the Canossian Sisters. She was eventually baptised and later became a Canossian sister herself. ‘If I were to meet the slave traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me,’ she once said, ‘I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.’

It was Josephine’s friendship with God and her deep sense of forgiveness that Bishop Ireland drew upon in his homily.

St Josephine, he said, ‘is a sister to everyone and shows us the way to true happiness—by living the Beatitudes. Her goodness in her ability and willingness to forgive brings comfort to the people of the Sudan who have endured so much suffering.

‘Like St Josephine, the Sudanese people have shown and continue to show the rest of us in the Church, through their faithfulness and their hope, how to follow Christ, be true Christians in our daily lives, and to have true loyalty to the Church.’

Bishop Ireland also acknowledged the continued unrest and conflict taking place in Sudan. ‘Thousands of your people have died in the wars and conflicts, and millions have been displaced and sought refuge in other countries like Australia.

‘We are here to pray with you today and to stand with you in solidarity, to say that whilst we can never truly appreciate the horrors that your people have endured, we are with you and we offer you our love and support.

‘We pray that in our community and in particular in our Catholic Church here in Melbourne, that you find a ready welcome and the comfort of peace.’

Her journey is like our journey.

A similar celebration took place over at Holy Eucharist Church in St Albans South, where Deacon George Piech Meat—one of Melbourne’s three South Sudanese deacons—said that St Josephine’s story continues to inspire and comfort.

‘Her journey is like our journey … she was kidnapped, enslaved and experienced hardship. We too were persecuted as Christians,’ he said.

‘So her story becomes our story. And ours is a history of sacrifice … of struggle and success. We now live [here in Melbourne] in peace and with a better future for our children.’