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Feb. 8, 2012
‘Doers of the word’ spread Jesus Christ
By Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., Apostolic Administrator
Today, Feb. 8, is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita—a most extraordinary woman and remarkable saint.
Josephine Bakhita was born in Darfur (Sudan) in 1869 or 1870. Her family was poor, even for the region, and she lived her young life in fear for her safety. When she was 9 years old, Josephine was kidnapped by slave traders. She was sold five times before she reached the age of 12.
Her life was brutal. She suffered unspeakable violence. She was beaten mercilessly and bore scars for the rest of her life. Josephine lived without hope. Hers is the story of human trafficking.
In 1882, Josephine was purchased by the Italian consul to Sudan and though still a slave, she was treated with less violence. Eventually she was taken to Italy. While she was there she encountered the charity of Catholics.
Religious sisters taught her to read. In the hotel where she worked she was treated with dignity. Through the love of Christians Josephine encountered Jesus Christ. Josephine Bakhita was baptized in 1890.
She had come to know love and mercy. On the day of her baptism, while still a slave, still suffering from pain and poverty, Josephine said this: “I am … loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by God’s love. And so my life is good.”
St. Josephine Bakhita became a Catholic, a consecrated religious sister and a catechist for children. In the year 2000, she was canonized a saint by Blessed John Paul II. Josephine learned about the love and mercy of God because she had encountered men and women who were disciples of Jesus Christ—who were “doers of the word, not hearers only.”
The theme of this year’s Living the Catholic Faith Conference, “Be doers of the word,” encourages us all to do the same. The dynamic talks and workshops will help each of us learn to both hear and follow the word of God—to hear and follow Jesus Christ.
St. Josephine Bakhita fell into slavery because the law in which she lived was lacking. No government protected her from falling into slavery. No leader respected her freedom. No law recognized her basic human dignity.
The United States is also a place in which law is lacking. In our country, the freedom to exercise religion is under serious attack. American law stopped recognizing basic human dignity at the time when abortion became a legal practice. None of us are likely to become slaves—but in the United States, we are becoming increasingly less free.
“Doers of the word” have a responsibility to build just societies. Each of us, as Catholics, is called to defend religious freedom and to promote the dignity of the human person. Each of us is called to help build a culture of goodness—a culture of life.
Navigating our Catholic responsibilities in the American landscape is a challenge. But it is a challenge each of us must undertake. One of the keynote speakers at this year’s Living the Catholic Faith Conference, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has spent a lifetime working to navigate the responsibilities of a Catholic in America’s civil government. Justice Scalia has worked as an attorney general, a federal judge and for more than 25 years, as a justice of the Supreme Court.
The issues Justice Scalia has faced—religious freedom, human dignity and social welfare are precisely the issues that “doers of the word” must address. They are issues that have never been more crucial in American history. Justice Scalia will share with us the ways in which one Catholic has brought his Catholic identity to bear in the work of building justice.
To be “doers of the word” is to be followers of Jesus Christ. I pray you will join me, Justice Antonin Scalia and hundreds of priests, deacons and Colorado Catholics in following after Jesus Christ at this year’s Living the Catholic Faith Conference.
Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.
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