Edward Davis at St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic Church (Archives)

St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic Church

Mtoni, P.O. Box 167,  Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

by Ed Davis

The Mtoni Catholic Church was begun as an outstation of the parish of Chang’ombe. It was erected as a parish by the Archbishop, Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, in 1996, and placed under the pastoral care of the Maryknoll Fathers (the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America). The base of the parish is 24 small Christian Communities located in the various sections of the parish. These communities are the Church in miniature, reaching out to all the people in the area with Christian love and service. It is from the leadership of the small Christian Communities that the Parish Council and its various committees are chosen.

Mtoni parish has an active catechetical program which extends to adult Catholics with two lively discussion groups, one on Bible reflection and another on Christian Life. The youth of the parish are very closely linked together in friendship and in parish activities. There is an apostolic dimension to the youth groups and their members engage in various corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Legion of Mary, while limited in membership, is zealous in its apostolic works. The Charismatic Prayer Group meets each Saturday afternoon in the church.

The parish is under the patronage of St. Josephine Bakhita who was canonized on October 1, 2000. Her feast day (and the parish feast day) is February 8th. St. Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869. Bakhita is the name that she was given by the slave traders who kidnapped her when she was only 7 years old. The years that Bakhita spent as a slave make a sad story. She was sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and of Khartoum. She experienced the indescribable humiliations and sufferings of being a slave. Bakhita’s sufferings were physical and moral. Her situation brought her as a slave to Italy and circumstances brought her into contact with the Canossian Sisters.

It was while living with the Sisters that Bakhita came to know about God whom she had experienced in her heart without knowing who He was ever since she was a child. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him and to pay Him homage.” Bakhita was baptized in 1890 and received the name Josephine. From then on, she was often seen kissing the baptismal font and saying: “Here, I became a daughter of God.” With each new day, she became more aware of who this God was, whom she now knew and loved, who had led her to Him through mysterious ways, holding her by the hand.

Bakhita joined the Canossian Sisters community and on December 8, 1896, she was consecrated forever to God whom she called with the sweet expression “the Master!” For another 50 years, this humble woman of Africa lived as a true witness of the love of God, engaged in various services to those who came into her life. Called upon often to relate the experiences of her life in slavery, Bakhita would always say: “What a great grace it is to know God!” She understood that God had led her to Himself through the trials and humiliations of slavery. As she grew older she experienced long and painful years of sickness and continued to witness to faith, goodness and Christian hope. To those who visited her and asked how she was, she would respond with a smile: “As the Master desires.” During her agony, she re-lived the terrible days of her slavery and more than once she begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please loosen the chains … they are heavy!”

It was Mary Most Holy who freed her from all pain. Her last words were: “Our Lady! Our Lady!” Bakhita’s final smile testified to her seeing our Blessed Mother who loosened all chains and took Bakhita to her place in Heaven.