Catholics in England and Wales are being invited to pray for all victims of human trafficking today, the Feast Day of St Bakhita.
"The Day of Prayer for the Victims of Trafficking is an opportunity to remember and pray for the thousands and thousands of victims of trafficking throughout the world," said the Lead Bishop for Migration, Bishop Patrick Lynch.
"It is especially appropriate that the day itself coincides with the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita who despite the suffering she experienced as a slave was a wonderful witness of how to live a life rooted in faith, inspired by hope and characterized by love. I would, therefore, encourage all people - young and old - to make a special effort to join in this Day of Prayer."
St Josephine Bakhita is the Sudanese Saint who at the age of 9 was kidnapped and sold into slavery. She suffered terribly at the hands of her kidnappers so much so that she forgot her birth name. Her kidnappers gave her the name "Bakhita" which means "Fortunate."
At the age of 35 she was bought by the Italian Consul and was eventually brought to Italy where she was entrusted to the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. It was there that she came to know and experience God's love. She became a Catholic in 1890 and made her final profession as a Canossian Sister in 1896. For the next 50 years she led a life of simplicity, prayer and service (especially as the doorkeeper in the convent) always showing kindness to everyone especially the children in the street. In her final years she suffered from sickness and the haunting memories of the beatings and floggings she received while in slavery. She died in 1947 and was canonized in October 2000.
Human trafficking now ranks as the second most profitable worldwide criminal enterprise after the illegal arms trade. The practical response of the Church and its charities, led in the main by women religious, is to raise awareness of this horrendous crime and to provide help and support for the most vulnerable victims.
The Office for Migration Policy (OMP) of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales is working in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service to raise awareness of the impact of human trafficking in the UK and the rest of the word. OMP is also liaising with two dicasteries of the Vatican, (the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People) to develop closer collaboration with the Episcopal Conferences of countries of origin as well as transit and destination countries so that prevention, pastoral care and reintegration of trafficked people can be improved.