New parish honours Sudanese saint

By 
  • June 27, 2008

{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - July 12 and 13 will mark the first Mass celebrations for St. Josephine Bakhita parish, the newest parish in the archdiocese of Toronto, at the western limits of Mississauga.

Founding pastor Fr. Mark Achilles Villanueva said he is excited to see the Christian community develop under the name of the Sudanese saint.

“We live in a multicultural society, but we look at the parishes and they are mostly (named after) European saints,” he said. “So I thought it would be good to have someone from Sudan.”

Villanueva, who is from the Philippines, proposed the name of St. Josephine Bahkita to Archbishop Thomas Collins because he was personally inspired by the story of St. Josephine Bahkita at the beginning of his journey as a priest.

“For me it was very interesting, years ago, when I was still a seminarian. I went to a retreat at a Canossian spirituality centre and came upon the book on Bakhita, who wasn’t a saint yet, and I was intrigued by her story,” he said.

St. Josephine Bahkita, canonized in 2000, lived in the late 19th century in Sudan and was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child. She was sold numerous times by various owners until she was bought and freed by an Italian consul and brought to Italy. A family that took her into their home helped her gain entry into an educational institute run by the Canossian Sisters, who provided her with basic knowledge of the Catholic faith. She later became a Catholic and joined the Canossian order.

“Personally, reading her story, there are many things we can learn from her experience,” Villanueva said. “She was always aware of a presence in her life, protecting her, even though she could not name that presence always on her side despite many of the hardships that she went through.”

With Sudan spoken about so often in the news, Villanueva said it is fitting for a parish to honour someone who experienced and overcame the difficulties of slavery and abuse that is still going on to this day.

“Even today there is so much human trafficking, even happening in Toronto,” he said. “Thirteen years of her life were spent in that situation — she had 144 wounds on her body.”

By pure coincidence, or divine providence, he added, after proposing St. Josephine Bakhita, he discovered that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Canossian Sisters. Also coincidentally, Villanueva said, the day after his private decision to propose using St. Josephine Bakhita’s name, Pope Benedict issued an encyclical in which he mentioned Bakhita as a model of hope for the 21st century.

This will be the first parish to use the name of St. Josephine Bakhita in North America. Villanueva said the Canossian Sisters were surprised to learn of this parish honouring their saint because the order does not have an official presence in Toronto.

“The strengthening and building up of the parish is something we would like to help with,” said Sr. Anna Haydee, FdCC.

Haydee has been living in Toronto since 2004. However, the only official Canossian community in Canada resides in Vancouver.

“Currently, Sr. Cristina Ovejara, from the Canossian Sisters Cristo Rey Province for North America, is in town to explore possibilities for starting a community of Canossian Sisters in the archdiocese, who will be ministering at the new parish, upon the invitation of Fr. Mark,” Haydee said.

St. Josephine Bakhita parish will celebrate Mass at St. Joan of Arc Secondary School until the congregation develops enough for a church to be built. It is being established to help alleviate overcrowding at two other Mississauga churches, St. John of the Cross and Merciful Redeemer, which are “bursting at the seams.”

Saturday Mass will be held every week at 5 p.m and Sunday Mass at 9 a.m, 11 a.m and 12:30 p.m. Mass in the school chapel will also be offered every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 7:45 a.m and every Wednesday and Friday evening at 7 p.m.

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