St. Bakhita, “strong example of being hopeful”: Vatican Cardinal at Mass in South Sudan

Michael Cardinal Czerny during the 8 February 2024 Holy Mass marking the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita and the tenth annual World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking. Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, is a model of resilience and hope worth emulating, the Prefect for the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD) has said.

In his homily at the Catholic Church dedicated in honor of St. Bakhita in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese, Michael Cardinal Czerny observed that the Sudanese-born saint is “much-beloved here in Malakal, South Sudan and beyond, in Sudan and throughout  the whole Catholic world.”

“St. Josephine Bakhita gives us such a strong example of being  hopeful even amidst dire circumstances,” Cardinal Czerny, who arrived in the East-Central African nation on February 3 for his eight-day pastoral trip said.

Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

During the February 8 Holy Mass, the Prefect of the DPIHD lead the people of God at St. Josephine Bakhita Church in Malakal in marking the tenth annual World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, whose theme is, “Journeying in Dignity. Listen. Dream. Act”. He also ordained three Deacons.


In his homily, he recalled the physical torture that scarred the native of Olgossa in Sudan’s Darfur region, where she was kidnapped, sold and resold multiple times as a slave, saying, “St. Josephine Bakhita suffered greatly in her life. As a child, she was abducted and forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to be sold as a slave.”

“During the journey to El Obeid, she was bought and sold twice. And after El Obeid, she was sold multiple times, spending many years in captivity marked by abuse and hardship,” the Czechian-born member of the Society of Jesus (SJ/Jesuits) further recalled. 

Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

“The story of St. Josephine Bakhita is a story of hope, from captivity and slavery to eventually learning of God in a convent of Sisters,” he continued, adding, “When finally, she was freed, she chose a life of full commitment to God and entered religious life.”

The Cardinal, who founded and directed the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) went on to recall St. Bakhita’s heart of forgiveness, when she is quoted as saying, “If I met those slavers who kidnapped me, and also those who tortured me, I would kneel down and kiss their hands, because, if this had not happened, I would not be a Christian now.”

More in Africa

As a member of the international missionary Congregation of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, Cardinal Czerny recalled in his February 8 homily, St. Bakhita “shared her story of captivity and slavery, thanking her kidnappers, for without them she might  not have known of Jesus, nor of the Church.”

Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

“Despite her sufferings, and even later despite the illness she endured, she remained cheerful, always following the desires of her Master Jesus Christ,” the Prefect of the Vatican DPIHD said.

He also recalled Pope Francis’ sharing during his General Audience  on 11 October 2023 as exemplified in the life of St. Bakhita. The Holy Father said, “The vocation of the oppressed is that of freeing themselves and their oppressors, becoming restorers of humanity. Only in the weakness of the oppressed can the force of God’s love, which frees both, be revealed”.

For Cardinal Czerny, the message of Pope Francis demonstrates “Bakhita’s soul. Truly, to feel pity means both to suffer with the victims of the great inhumanity in the world, and also to pity those who commit errors and injustices, not justifying, but humanizing.”


Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

“This is the caress she teaches us: to humanize,” he further said, and explained, “When we enter the logic of fighting, of division among us, of bad feelings, one against the other, we lose our humanity. And very often we think we are in need of humanity, of being more humane. And this is the work that Saint Bakhita teaches us: to humanize, to humanize ourselves and to humanize others.”

The Prefect of the Vatican DPIHD is set to conclude his pastoral visit to South Sudan on Friday, February 9. The trip that started in Juba Archdiocese marks one year since the first-ever Papal visit to the country. The 3-5 February 2023 Ecumenical Visit, which Pope Francis realized alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, was organized under the theme, “I pray that all may be one”, taken from John 17.

In Juba, Cardinal Czerny presided over Holy Mass at St. Theresa’s Kator Cathedral of South Sudan’s only Metropolitan See, the venue of Pope Francis’ 4 February 2023 meeting with members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians.

Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

(Story continues below)

He described his pastoral visit to the country as “another sign” of of the solidarity of the Catholic Church, and that of the Holy Father, with South Sudanese in their search for lasting peace, and urged them to “be faithful” to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

On February 6, Cardinal Czerny travelled to Renk, an “outreach point” in the Northeastern part of South Sudan for those fleeing violence in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. There, he lauded the pastoral ministry undertaken by the Diocese of Malakal and acknowledged with appreciation the welcoming attitude of the local community amid limited resources.

Credit: Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD)

The Vatican-based Cardinal visited the reception center for returnees and refugees from Sudan and interacted with representatives of Caritas Malakal, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the United Nations.

He is set to bless a boat, which Caritas South Sudan is to use to transport migrants and refugees along the Nile River from Renk.

ACI Africa was founded in 2019. We provide free, up-to-the-minute news affecting the Catholic Church in Africa, giving particular emphasis to the words of the Holy Father and happenings of the Holy See, to any person with access to the internet. ACI Africa is proud to offer free access to its news items to Catholic dioceses, parishes, and websites, in order to increase awareness of the activities of the universal Church and to foster a sense of Catholic thought and culture in the life of every Catholic.