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Pope Francis and USCCB Draw Our Attentions to Modern Day Slavery in the New Year

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This year’s World Day of Peace Message of Pope Francis puts a spotlight on the modern day scourge of trafficking human beings for economic and sexual exploitation. The title of the Holy Father’s message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1, is Slaves no More, But Brothers and Sisters. (Read the message).

Pope Francis wants the world to react with swiftness and intensity to the current situation of forced economic exploitation (of girls, boys, men and women) and the sexual exploitation of children and adults (overwhelmingly girls and women). With millions of people currently being treated as tradable commodities to be used and abused in horrific conditions of slavery, such a situation should shock the world community to act to end this evil. Sadly, according to a June 19, 2014 article in The Washington Post, perhaps only one percent of those trapped in this “modern day slavery” have been freed from their suffering.

Pope Francis has chosen this social concern in his second World Day of Peace message because he is passionate about this issue. He has called human trafficking “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge on the body of Christ.” This past April, Pope Francis met with four women who were victims of trafficking who joined the Pope at an international conference convened at the Vatican to address what the Pope called “a crime against humanity.” In his November 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, Pope Francis called upon each of us to ask God’s question to Cain, “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used in begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way.”

Every act of human trafficking is a denial of personal freedom and an affront to human dignity. While such trafficking may involve cross-border transportation of people, it can also be an exploitive relationship of confinement within one’s own community. Whether it happens solely within a local area or involves victimization thousands of miles away from home, human trafficking entails the suffering of the voiceless and powerless at the hands of those committing grave sin, who use coercion and violence, and the ongoing threat of more violence and even death against captives and/or their loved ones. 

In the first full week of January (4 -10), the Office of Migration and Refugee Service of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Migration Week. In that week, the US Bishops seek to draw our attention to the plight of migrants, refugees, and trafficked persons. A background report on human trafficking issued by that office estimates that there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, with slightly less than half that number being trafficked internationally. What may come as a surprise to many Americans is that forced labor and sexual exploitation in conditions of servitude and confinement occur in such nations as the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy and France. In fact, over 1.5 million victims of human trafficking are currently suffering in nations that are often called the “developed” nations of the world. This report by the USCCB also presents the main reason why trafficking takes place – it generates tens of billions of dollars in illegal profits for those who control the trade of human beings. 

The Pope’s message, that our fight against human trafficking must occur because we are protecting our brothers and sisters, parallels the message of the US Bishops during National Migration Week who have chosen as the theme of that week “We Are One Family Under God.” Imagine your revulsion and anger if you found out that your brother or your sister, your niece or nephew, your child or grandchild, was undergoing the horrific ordeal of forced labor or sexual abuse. What would you do? The Pope and the US Bishops have the response to that question. They are telling us that, indeed members of your family, our family – the family under God – is in need of our immediate help. God is crying out to us – “where is your brother, your sister?”

St. Josephine Bakhita, Pray for Us. (About Sr. Josephine Bakhita)

(St. Josephine Bakhita, born in 1869 in the Sudan, was a victim of kidnapping, human trafficking, and slavery. After her abduction as a child she endured many years of captivity marked by tremendous suffering in various areas of northeast Africa. She was eventually sold when she was a young woman to an Italian diplomat and taken back to Italy to be a servant. She was freed by court action in Italy through the efforts and support of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, the order which she later joined and in which she lived a consecrated life. She was known for her gentleness and sanctity, devoting her life to growing her faith and serving the Church. She never returned to the Sudan, yet helped prepare members of her order who were being sent to Africa as missionaries. At her Mass of Canonization in October of 2000, Pope John Paul II noted “in St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining example of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspired not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.” Pope Benedict XVI, on 30 November 2007, in the beginning of his second encyclical letter Spe Salvi, raises up St. Josephine Bakhita and her life story as an outstanding example of the Christian hope. The Church celebrates her life on February 8.

Download a two-page handout on the 2015 World Day of Peace Message which includes five things you can do to fight human trafficking.  World-Day-of-Peace-2015-handout.pdf

Learn more about human trafficking and about what is being done to address this evil by visiting the following websites:


By Joseph Purello
Director, Office of Social Concerns and Advocacy


Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte © 2014