This Sunday was the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against human trafficking.
In the Vatican press conference held last Tuesday it was explained that the day coincided with the Feast day of freed Sudanese slave Saint Josephine Bakhita.
She was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 2000. St Josephine Bakhita was born in South Sudan in 1869. She is the first person to be canonised from Sudan and is the patron saint of the country.
As a young girl, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. She was treated brutally by her captors as she was sold and resold. Once freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testimony of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering. She became a Canossian Sister, working in Italy for her last 40 years.
The Vatican cited statistics that estimate around 21 million poor and vulnerable people are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour, begging, organ trafficking, domestic servitude, forced marriages, illegal adoption and other forms of exploitation.
It is estimated that human trafficking is the third most lucrative activity in the world, after drugs and arms trafficking.
The day of prayer was given the title of “A light against human trafficking,” and was sponsored by promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace and the International Union of Superiors General.
At the international level there is also The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking, made up of a number of national and international Catholic agencies that are striving to combat human trafficking.
A number of bishops’ conferences around the world are promoting this Sunday’s event, including the United States, Canada, England and Wales, and Australia.
“Trafficked persons are almost always exploited, they are victims of crime and their treatment is a violation of their human dignity,” the statement from the bishops’ conference of England and Wales explained.
They referred to data that put human trafficking as the second most profitable criminal activity in the world, after the illegal arms trade.
The Catholic bishops in England and Wales have established what they call the Bakhita Initiative, which will be overseen by the Bakhita Foundation. There will also be an institute for research into human slavery that will help to raise awareness of the problem at the parish and community level.
In the United States the bishops have also established a program, “Become a Shepherd,” to raise awareness of the problem of human trafficking.
In his message for the international day of prayer Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out that the efforts to put an end to human trafficking are not just about eliminating the criminal activity, but also about dealing with the patterns of exclusion that make people vulnerable.
“People become vulnerable to being trafficked through social and economic exclusion. Many people experience exclusion because of barriers such as poverty, gender bias, racism, lack of education and lack of opportunity; others become excluded as a result of mental illness, addiction, family disconnection or social isolation,” he said.
Pope Francis has frequently mentioned the problem of human trafficking in his addresses. In April last year the Vatican hosted a “Combating Human Trafficking conference” which brought together representatives from the Church and police chiefs from many countries around the world. At the end they signed a declaration, called the Santa Marta Commitment, to pledge a common effort in the fight to bring an end to human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity,” Pope Francis said in his address to the participants on April 10 last year.
Brothers and sisters
Pope Francis dedicated his World Day of Peace Message for this year, titled “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters,” to the theme of human trafficking.
The title was based on St Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which he urged that his co-worker, Onesimus, once Philemon’s slave, be accepted no longer as a slave, but as a brother.
“As brothers and sisters, therefore, all people are in relation with others, from whom they differ, but with whom they share the same origin, nature and dignity,” the Pope said. “In this way, fraternity constitutes the network of relations essential for the building of the human family created by God,” he continued.
“Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object. Whenever sin corrupts the human heart and distances us from our Creator and our neighbours, the latter are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects,” Pope Francis observed.
The Pope finished by calling for a turning away from the globalization of indifference to a deeper awareness of solidarity and fraternity: an invitation to all not to ignore this terrible treatment of so many persons.