The legacy of St. Josephine Bakhita

Marking International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking

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• Learn more about Sr. Josephine Bakhita in this Horizons column.

A tapestry portrait of St. Josephine Bakhita, an African slave who died in 1947, hangs from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica during her canonization in 2000 at the Vatican. St. Bakhita was born in the Darfur region of what is now Sudan. Her feast day i s Feb. 8, which this year is the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. (CNS photo / L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Today, Feb. 8, is the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, and it's no coincidence that it is also the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita: The date was chosen at the request of women religious to highlight her life.

Bakhita was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. Eventually, she was made the slave-servant for a girl attending a convent school run by the Canossian Sisters in Italy. Bakhita became a Christian and fell in love with the convent, and when the girl's parents came to collect their daughter and her servant, Bakhita refused to leave. She went to court, supported by the sisters, and won, as slavery was illegal in Italy. She then joined the Canossian Sisters and spent 50 years as a religious, dying in 1947. She was canonized in 2000.

As tragic as Bakhita's story is, her strength and resolve is also inspiring, as is the fight women religious have taken up against human trafficking around the globe. In fact, trafficking has become such an important cause to sisters that Global Sisters Report has gathered its coverage of human trafficking on one dedicated page. There, you can read about education and partnership efforts in Ohio; sisters working to expose trafficking operations in California; the amazing report by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, Hidden in Plain Sight, on trafficking in the United States and the efforts of Benedictine sisters in South Dakota to stop it; and many other stories.

At the heart of trafficking, of course, is a disregard for human life, something sisters have fought against since the beginning.

Boko Haram's reign of terror continues

Boko Haram continues to terrorize Central Africa, and its latest attack is even more horrific than the group's previous atrocities.

This time, The Economist reports, more than 100 militants descended on a village in northern Nigeria, killing and destroying everything in sight.

They set fire to houses, burned children alive, shot villagers and detonated bombs amid the crowds trying to flee the violence. The village was razed, and even the cattle were killed. At least 85 people are dead, many of their bodies burned beyond recognition.

Even more distressing, The Economist says, is the Nigerian military's apparent inability to deal with the jihadists, a situation unlikely to change soon. Not only are soldiers slow to respond, but they often suffer ammunition shortages, lack training and have poor communication.

There's another, deeper problem, too: The Economist says the government recently reinstated a major-general accused by Amnesty International of being involved in the deaths of 8,000 people held by the government. If villagers are to trust the military, it's not going to happen if the government turns a blind eye to its atrocities.

The Lost Boys rebuild

And finally, some good news: The Jesuit Refugee Service checked in with the Lost Boys of Sudan and found that they have become leaders.

The Lost Boys were thousands of children who fled the civil war in Sudan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, losing their families. Many of them were recruited to serve as child soldiers for the rebel army, further victimizing them.

But for those who made it to a refugee camp, JRS offered hundreds of scholarships to attend local secondary schools. About 5,000 of these refugee boys were resettled to Australia, Canada and the United States, JRS says. Many of them — now men with college degrees — have returned to Sudan to help rebuild their country:

Jacob Dut Chol studied at Catholic University of Eastern Africa with a scholarship from JRS and later at the London School of Economics for a Master's degree. He returned to Juba after his studies and now lectures at the University of Juba and consults for the Nile Petroleum Corporation.

"My umbilical cord is buried in this land. I left my blood, my family here. I knew if I were to do something good for humanity, I needed to come home," Jacob Dut Chol said.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]