Pope Francis turned today to one of the most troubled lands of the planet in his continuing general audience series on saints who teach us how to share the Good News of Jesus.
Today, he turned to Darfur, summarizing the horrors there with just one phrase, “troubled Darfur!” But the fame of the saint he spoke of “has exceeded every boundary and reached all those to whom identity and dignity is denied,” he said, speaking of St. Josephine Bakhita.
“Unfortunately, for months Sudan has been torn by a terrible armed conflict, of which little is spoken today; let us pray for the Sudanese people, so they might live in peace!”
Little Josephine was abducted from the Darfur region of Sudan in 1869, at age 7, and enslaved.
She passed through eight masters – each one sold her on to the next. The physical and moral suffering she suffered as a child left her with no identity. She suffered cruelty and violence: on her body she bore more than a hundred scars. But she herself testified: “As a slave I never despaired, because I felt a mysterious force supporting me.”
With such a story, Pope Francis voiced the question that naturally arises: What was her secret?
We know that often a wounded person wounds in turn: the oppressed easily becomes an oppressor. Instead, 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. Saint Bakhita expresses this truth very well.
The Holy Father went on to consider Josephine’s journey to freedom, especially her inner freedom.
One day her tutor gave her a small crucifix and she, who had never owned anything, conserved her treasure jealously. Looking at it, she experienced inner liberation, because she felt understood and loved and therefore capable of understanding and loving: This is the beginning. She felt understood, she felt loved, and as a consequence capable of understanding and loving others. Indeed, she went on to say: “God’s love has always accompanied me in a mysterious way … The Lord loved me: You have to love everyone … you have to have pity!” This is Bakhita’s soul.
St. Josephine teaches us to “humanize,” the Pope reflected. To take pity means to “suffer with” – both those who are victims of the great inhumanity of the world, and those who commit injustices.
This is the caress she teaches us: to humanize. When we enter the logic of fighting, of division between us, of bad feelings, one against the other, we lose our humanity. And very often we think we are in need of humanity, to be more humane. And this is it. The work that Saint Bakhita teaches us: to humanize, to humanize ourselves and to humanize others.
The life of this saint, the Pope proposed, is an “existential parable of forgiveness.”
How good it is to say to a person, “he was capable, she was capable of forgiving, always.” And she was always capable of forgiving; indeed, her life is an existential parable of forgiveness. To forgive because then we will be forgiven. Do not forget this: forgiveness, which is God’s caress to all of us.
Forgiveness liberated her. Forgiveness first received through God’s merciful love, and then the forgiveness given that made her a free, joyful woman, capable of loving.
Pope Francis affirmed that forgiveness takes away nothing, but adds something essential.
Dear brothers and sisters, forgiveness takes away nothing but adds – what does forgiveness add? – dignity: forgiveness takes away nothing from you but adds dignity to the person, it makes us lift our gaze from ourselves towards others, to see them as fragile as we are, yet always brothers and sisters in the Lord. Brothers and sisters, forgiveness is the wellspring of a zeal that becomes mercy and calls us to a humble and joyful holiness, like that of Saint Bakhita.