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The Story of a Slave Who Became a Saint Selected for the Goncourt Prize

November 17, 2017

“Bakhita”, the writer Véronique Olmi’s latest novel, made it to the finals for the 2017 Goncourt Prize and presents the public with the story of a Sudanese slave who became a saint.

“For a story to be wonderful, the beginning has to be terrible,” writes Véronique Olmi. This was certainly true for young Bakhita, who was born in 1869 in Sudan, and whose name means “lucky”. Sold as a slave at the age of 7 by Muslim slave traders on the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, beatings, violence, and tortures of every sort were her daily lot.

Eventually she was miraculously bought by the consul of Italy in Khartoum, Calisto Legnani, in 1883. He brought her back to “the land of the white dream and the gentle sun”, as Bakhita called it. Little by little, the former slave discovered Catholicism. Understanding how much she had in common with Christ, she asked to become “the daughter of a Father who would never abandon her”. She was baptized on January 9, 1890, by Cardinal Domenico Agostini, cardinal-archbishop of Venice.

After many difficulties, she became Sister Josephine-Bakhita. She came to be known as “the little black mother” (Madre Moretta) then spent the last 50 years of her life as a nun in a Venetian convent, at the bedside of the poor, the sick, and children.

Writing the life of a saint for a largely de-Christianized society is no easy thing. But, remarks Stéphanie Janicot in the columns of La Croix, “by placing herself as close as possible to her subject’s emotions, memories, and feelings, Véronique Olmi succeeds in whisking us off into an exciting and unexpected whirlwind that almost makes the reader forget that it all really happened”.

May this book be a means for many readers to discover the missionary splendor of the Catholic Church and the figure of Josephine Bakhita, who died on February 8, 1947, invoking “Our Lady! Our Lady!”

Véronique Olmi, Bakhita, Abin Michel, 456 p., 22.90€