"No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters"
"Put environment and human trafficking at the top of your agenda"
Pope Francis to City Mayors, 21 July 2015
Pope Francis has called modern forms of slavery “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”.
In his encyclical Laudato Si, he highlights the connection between ecology and human trafficking.
In Paragraph 91, we read that “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.”
Here, Pope Francis has brought his care for the victims of human trafficking to a higher level, from care for victims, to a theological approach based on ‘human ecology'.
The Church has now designated February 8th, Feast of St Bakhita, the Patron Saint of Trafficked people, when, the Catholic Community worldwide prays for the victims and survivors of Human Trafficking and those who work to combat it.
St Bakhita, bore numerous physical scars throughout her life which she received after she was kidnapped at the age of nine in Sudan and sold into slavery. Such was the trauma experienced that she forgot her birth name and her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita meaning “lucky”. Flogging and maltreatment were part of her daily life. When she was sold to an Italian family her life was transformed, because for the first time she experienced kindness and respect.
Theresa May, U.K. Home Secretary, has guided the The Modern Slavery Act 2015 through Parliament. It received Royal Assent on 26 March this year. She attended the Conference at the Vatican on Human Trafficking and has taken Pope Francis’ concerns on this issue to heart.
She visited one of our safe houses and spent much time talking to the victims.
The Modern Slavery Act is the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century.
Home Secretary Theresa May says:
“The presence of modern slavery in today’s society is an affront to the dignity and humanity of every one of us. This Act is an historic milestone".
It sends the strongest possible signal to criminals that if you are involved in this vile trade you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up. And it says to victims, you are not alone, we are here to help you.
Our work is far from over, and everyone in all sectors of society must play their part. But we as a nation can be proud that today we are closer to consigning slavery to the history books where it belongs.”
What are we doing in the English Province?
The Medaille Trust continues to grow in its work with victims of exploitation.
The Trust was initiated by Catholic Religious Congregations in Southampton, England in 2006. This Charity was spearheaded by Sister Ann Teresa SSJA.
Initially the purpose of the Charity was to support women trafficked into the U.K. mainly for sexual exploitation. Since 2006, over 60 Religious Congregations have helped us, with properties, finance, volunteers and with prayer. We now care for both men and women in seven safe houses in different parts of the U.K.
Many volunteers offer Art and English classes to the women, some give their time to listen to the victims. This helps them regain some self-esteem and begin to develop positive relationships.
Recently the Trust has been developing international partnerships in countries where large numbers of victims have been trafficked to the U.K. Vietnam is one such country, from which400,000 women and children have been trafficked since 1990. Some of the Staff have visited Vietnam this year to link up with the Hagar Trust, (An anti-trafficking organisation mainly for Afghanistan, Cambodia and Vietnam).
The Trust is also active in Renate, (Religious in Europe, Networking against Trafficking and Exploitation). This year a number of the Staff joined in Renate training in Madrid. The purpose of Renate is to coordinate and build capacity in the numerous Catholic agencies and groups involved in countering trafficking.
“God, be ahead of us to lead us, be behind us to push us, be in us to serve you”