Category Archives: Pray


St. Patrick: A Saint for Garment Justice

March 03, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

St. Patrick

St. Patrick

For St. Patrick’s Day, as they say, “Everyone is Irish.” We put on our green clothing, great cities have wondrous parades, and some among us may use the opportunity to drink to excess. Perhaps this March 17th we might recall another aspect of St. Patrick’s life.

Of the rough contours that most Catholics might recall of his life, most know that St. Patrick evangelized Ireland. Not through force or deception but through his living witness, Ireland became a deeply Catholic island. Some may even add in that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Hence, Irish descendants around the globe celebrate kinship with the missionary bishop.

Nonetheless, others also have a special connection with St. Patrick. Like more than 21 million people worldwide today, St. Patrick was a victim of human trafficking and slavery.

Born in Great Britain, at 16 years old, St. Patrick was captured by raiders and brought to what is now considered to be the County of Antrim in Northern Ireland.  Sold into slavery, a chieftain forced Patrick into service as a shepherd. Patrick’s voice, that drew so many to the faith, was the voice of a trafficking victim. In his biography, Confession, we find this evocative phrase:

I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

Eventually, amid an escape and recapture and another escape, St. Patrick returned to his family. In thanksgiving, he studied for the priesthood. Embedded within St. Patrick’s biography is a story of grace, healing, and reconciliation. No longer a slave, he returned to Ireland, the place of his slavery, to evangelize. Based on the success of his evangelization, his return to Ireland was not as an accusation but forgiveness. He did not tell the old story of “goodies” and “baddies” or hero and victim. St. Patrick was a herald to a new story which was good news for his former oppressors.

Similarly, St. Patrick’s hopeful experience suggests not only that it is our task to liberate those enslaved in human trafficking, but that, indeed, those persons who have been trafficked can be a moment of conversion and a gift to us in the dominant culture.

I first encountered “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” in a television show about an inner-city parish, “Nothing Sacred.” No longer “bound” in slavery, St. Patrick freely chooses to “bind” himself to Christ. Watch this video clip and recall that the words come from a former slave.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

A special thanks to CRS, that recognized St. Patrick as a victim of human trafficking. I also recommend John Richmond’s post: St. Patrick’s Day: A View on Suffering & Slavery.
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Preaching for Garment Justice: A Bulletin Column

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Field of lilies

Field of lilies

Capuchin friar Robert Wotypka wrote the following for his parish bulletin (St Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park/Detroit MI) for Sunday, February 26th, the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle A.

This poor friar was never a slave to fashion, but in the years before I joined the Saint Joseph province, when I worked in hotels and as a consultant, one could identify me as a fellow traveler. It simply wouldn’t do to check in or go to dinner in my dog-walking pants; no, it was pretty clear what togs were needed in the “right crowd and no crowding” set. Two reminisces, OK? There was the time Prince Charles came to stay at the five-star joint I worked at back in the 90s in NYC. When I saw how well his suit fit, that the buttons on his jacket sleeves actually buttoned, well, I felt – and probably looked – like the titular character in Shane shopping with the sodbusters in the general store, turning in my fringed buckskins for flannels and jeans. The other misty water-colored memory is from Hong Kong, at a Starbucks, where I often did my reports. Every patron’s entrance was like a runway show, from the door to the counter and back, and it was impressive.

Things are different now. A friar does dress to impress, at least that was the hope of Saint Francis. As our Capuchin Constitutions say, “Remembering that Saint Francis wore a penitential garment made in the shape of a cross, we, too, wear the habit as a reminder of conversion, a sign of consecration to God, and of belonging to the Order. In this way we also express our condition as lesser brothers, so that even the clothes we wear witness to poverty.” That’s voluntary poverty, to be clear, and that’s a whole other spool of thread, to be taken up in another post.

I’m needling on the topic of clothing because of today’s Gospel, Matthew Chapter 6, “The Lilies of the Field,” where Jesus urges us to depend on God and God’s generosity for needful things. It’s a call to whole body conversion that has to be life-giving, otherwise it would not have been proclaimed by the one who conquered death. Let me hem in on my point: my retreat from the fashion wars owing to lack of material, and my transition to thrift stores and other re-use modes, has been good for me and, I’d propose, good for the planet. The world grows too much cotton, a water- and pesticide-intensive crop that is heavily subsidized, and produces too much clothing, buoyed by branding and relentless ads. “Fast fashion,” the production and distribution model followed by the biggest global firms, creates involuntary poverty and immense waste. The call to embrace something different is a matter of life and death, in particular for people caught up in the clothing supply chain, as was shown in 2013 at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To learn more, please check out an initiative from my province at http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/. Thank you.

Editor’s note: And thank you, Bro. Robert, for your reflection!

St. Josephine Bakhita: A Saint for Garment Justice

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

St. Josephine Bakhita

St. Josephine Bakhita

For many years, St. Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. As a former slave, she is the patron saint for the victims of human trafficking. In honor of St. Josephine, please, take a moment for a simple gesture in her honor for all victims of human trafficking. Many things in our lives that make us comfortable are the illicit fruit of human trafficking. More human beings are trafficked in the garment industry than any other single industry (including prostitution). Take our St. Vincent Pledge to pay attention to, to see authentically, those human beings enslaved in modern supply chains. You can make the pledge here. 

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Schio (Vicenza) in 1947. She knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, and she flourished in Italy, in response to God’s grace, with the Daughters of Charity.

In Slavery

Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. The fright and the terrible experiences she went through made her forget the name she was given by her parents. Bakhita, which means “fortunate”, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.

Sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and of Khartoum, she experienced the humiliations and sufferings of slavery, both physical and moral.

Towards freedom

In the Capital of Sudan, Bakhita was bought by an Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani. For the first time in her life, no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated in a loving and cordial way. In the Consul’s residence, Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled by nostalgia for her own family, whom, perhaps, she had lost forever.

Political situations forced the Consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and with a friend of his, a certain Mr. Augusto Michieli.

In Italy

On arrival in Genoa, Mr. Legnani, pressured by the request of Mr. Michieli’s wife, consented to leave Bakhita with them. She followed the new “family,” which settled in Zianigo. When their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.

The acquisition and management of a big hotel in Suakin, on the Red Sea, forced Mrs. Michieli to move to Suakin to help her husband. Meanwhile, on the advice of their administrator, Illuminato Checchini, Mimmina and Bakhita were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. It was there 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…”

Daughter of God

After several months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation and was given the new name, Josephine. It was January 9, 1890. She did not know how to express her joy that day. Her big and expressive eyes sparkled, revealing deep emotions. 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 through mysterious ways, holding her by the hand.

When Mrs. Michieli returned from Africa to take back her daughter and Bakhita, the latter, with unusual firmness and courage, expressed her desire to remain with the Canossian Sisters and to serve that God who had shown her so many proofs of His love.

The young African, who by then had come of age, enjoyed the freedom which the Italian law ensured.

Daughter of St. Magdalene

Bakhita remained in the catechumenate where she experienced the call to be a religious, and to give herself to the Lord in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa.

On December 8, 1896 Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God whom she called with the sweet expression “the Master!”

For another 50 years, this humble Daughter of Charity, a true witness of the love of God, lived in the community in Schio, engaged in various services: cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door.

When she was on duty at the door, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who daily attended the Canossian schools and caress them. Her amiable voice, which had the inflection and rhythm of the music of her country, was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering and encouraging for those who knocked at the door of the Institute.

Witness of love

Her humility, her simplicity and her constant smile won the hearts of all the citizens. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her inalterable sweet nature, her exquisite goodness and her deep desire to make the Lord known.

“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”

As she grew older she experienced long, painful years of sickness. Mother Bakhita 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.”

Final test

During her agony, she re-lived the terrible days of her slavery and more then once she begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy!” Mother Bakhita breathed her last on February 8, 1947 at the Canossian Convent, Schio, surrounded by the Sisters. A crowd quickly gathered at the Convent to have a last look at their “Mother Moretta” and to ask for her protection from heaven. In Schio, where she spent many years of her life, locals still refer to her as “our Black Mother.”

In May 1992 news of her beatification was banned by Khartoum which Pope John Paul II then personally visited only nine months later. On 10 February 1993, he solemnly honoured Bakhita on her own soil. “Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise and yet still free. Free with the freedom of the saints.”

Pope Benedict XVI, on 30 November 2007, in the beginning of his second encyclical letter Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved), relates her entire life story as an outstanding example of the Christian hope (see paragraph #3).

A more complete biography of St. Josephine can be found here on the Vatican website.

Prayer

St. Josephine Bakhita,
you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church.

O St. Bakhita,
assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity.
Those cruelly enslaved by others, may God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and
let them look to you as an example of hope and faith.
Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.
Amen

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January 01, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society.”
– Pope Francis

President Obama designated January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by presidential proclamation on December 28, 2016. This month provides an excellent opportunity to increase awareness about human trafficking and trafficking prevention. As noted by the President, “[d]uring National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we resolve to shine a light on every dark corner where human trafficking still threatens the basic rights and freedoms of others.”

large_human-trafficking-awareness-day_text1

Human trafficking, a form of modern slavery, is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom. Many specialists agree that more people are trafficked in the garment industry than any other industry on the planet. It can be disturbing to learn that things we take for granted as part of our daily lives—chocolate, clothes, coffee, cellphones–are frequently made under conditions that aren’t simply unjust, but that can only be described as slavery.

Pray for those who are still enslaved.