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INTERVIEW: Cardinal Nichols: We Will Not Be Deflected From Our Fight Against Human Trafficking

Archbishop of Westminter Tells Zenit Why They Are Committed to Helping Victims

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On the commitment to combat human trafficking, Cardinal Nichols says, «We are doing this for the sake of victims and survivors and we will not be deflected.»
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales and president of the “Santa Marta Group,” said this. The English Cardinal was present in the Vatican following a press conference he led in the Holy See Press Office yesterday on this ‘group,’ namely an international body against human trafficking, launched in 2014 by Pope Francis. Alongside Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the panel was composed of: Cardinal Charles Bo, S.D.B., archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar; Dr. Cressida Dick, Commissioner, London Metropolitan Police Service; Dr. Nestor Roncaglia, General Commissioner Policía Federal Argentina.
The press conference took place at the end of the audience with the Holy Father and the meeting of the “Santa Marta Group”, held in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV, Feb. 8-9, 2018.
According to its website, the Santa Marta Group is an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis, to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery. The Pope describes trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”.
Following initiatives by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, the Group was developed by the Bishops’ Conference. In April 2014, it first met in Rome when police chiefs and Catholic bishops came together, in the presence of Pope Francis, to sign an historic declaration, committing themselves to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking.
Named after the home of Pope Francis, in which the members stayed, the Group now has members in over 30 countries.
Zenit’s interview with Cardinal Nichols can be read below:
ZENIT: Your Eminence, why is it so important to address this tragedy of human trafficking?

I would like everybody to understand that human trafficking takes place in every country. There are 42 million people forced into modern slavery. Everyone must understand that there are probably people who are working as slaves in the vicinity of where they live. Every country is a place from which people are taken and to where people are taken. My first encounter was an English woman who had been trafficked for prostitution in Italy. And it was not how I envision human trafficking, but the reality.

There were two impressions from this meeting that struck me about this trafficking phenomenon. First, the country of Myanmar, or Burma, was described to be today as the epicenter of human trafficking. And second, the world of the seas, the commercial ships and the fishing ships. I didn’t know: there are 4.5 million fishing boats in the world. And in many of those, people are put in forced labors. So, the Far East, the countries around Burma, and the maritime areas are hit especially hard.

If you buy cheap fish, it’s probably coming from Thailand, or Philippines, and probably it has been worked by slaves.

ZENIT: Who are the trafficked in countries like ours? Let’s suppose I am driving down the street, do we see these victims?

I think for the most part, people who are trafficked will be working. Probably it’s a woman working in the prostitution, it’s a child that maybe works in prostitution. They may be working in domestic servitude, they may be working in places where cars are washed, in places where construction is done, but for the most part, people of human trafficking do not beg in the street. Here is where there is the profit. Human trafficking is very profitable, and we must contrast it by not making it profitable and by arresting and stopping people.

ZENIT: Your Eminence, you said there is a certain level of candidness that took place during this encounter, in terms of those who spoke not just of successes, but also of ‘failures.’  I am curious what successes and also these humbly expressed ‘failures,’ impacted you the most?
Well, I think the candid admittance of failure often came in confronting the enormity of this challenge.  I was very, very moved this morning when we heard two voices from Burma. This a country of great instability and immense poverty. And it was described by the sister who spoke, as the epicenter of human trafficking.  It is outside my experience, but I sit there and listen to the level of poverty in the country and the profile of people who traffic maybe into China … young girls into prostitution and into forced marriage, often seen, for example, in Thailand and the Middle East … often widespread in the construction industry. No freedom.  So in that sense, Cardinal Bo said, at the end of his presentation, I am sorry I bring you sad new and Archbishop Auza, who is chairing it said, ‘Well, we rather have some news that is true than happy news that is a false.»
Also there were some acknowledgements that cooperation between the resources of the Church and the police are not easy to set up and people are saying that we are just at the beginning of this work, couple of years, but just at the beginning this work. To me, it was a sign of the maturing of the Santa Marta group.
We are honest, we are not coming to blow a trumpet or to pretend or to make some policy  declaration . We are here to be honest.  I think that the Santa Marta presence of this spirit and sense of cooperation is very important  because often these things can be subject to political calculations and whether  this can be politically advantageous to do this or that. And even in public services like the police it could be to do a promotion, prospects or who has influence at the moment. We are doing this for the sake of victims and survivors and we will not be deflected.
ZENIT: In the past in different conferences on Human Trafficking within the Vatican Gardens held at the Casina Pio IV, there were declarations in the Vatican with the aim of eradicating Human Trafficking by 2020. But, as you said, the numbers of trafficking are at their all-time high. Do you see this eradication to still be feasible?
If I could convey to you some of the dedication and passionate commitment in the last couple of days in the Santa Marta Group,  you would feel a bit hopeful.  As we talk to people working on the ground, on the streets , talking to people working in governments around the world. Dr Jean Baderschneider was there, as she had created a global fund, The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.  She says that profiteering from trafficking is, I forget, some 150 billion dollars a year .  Money put into the fight is about 100 million a year.  But, she has the contacts and expertise, and the contributions from governments and investors to create a really big global fund. [The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery is a public-private partnership developing a $1.5+ billion fund and coordinating a coherent, global strategy to address modern slavery.] So you have work on the streets, and work on a high international level as long as we keep this together there will be an impetus and an effect.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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