by Margo Borders
Pope Francis held a Vatican workshop on November 2-3 called “Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery.” According to EWTN, the workshop was jointly hosted by the Pontifical Council for the Sciences and the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Association. Experts gathered to discuss the issue and “examine human trafficking and modern slavery in order to establish the real state of this phenomenon and an agenda to combat this heinous crime,” according to the conference organizers.
Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slaver, or other lucrative purposes. The United Nations estimates that 20.9 million people globally were victims of forced labor from 2002-2011. This was the first time the Vatican academies had dedicated a session to the specific issue of human trafficking, and they are planning on having another meeting on the same issue in the next year.
According to EWTN, “upon the close of the weekend, conference organizers issued a ‘joint statement based on the suggestions presented by the participants,’ which included proposals for media, religious institutions, civil organizations and business sectors to work together in order to combat human trafficking.”
Human trafficking is an issue also present in our local community. Sister Marilyn McGoldrick, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, and Sister Peggy Cummins, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, are both in involved in the Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition in Boston.
McGoldrick and Cummins’ communities both have a ministry in human trafficking, and generally focus on reaching out to those in the most neglected places. Four different religious communities are represented in the Anti-Trafficking Coalition, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and the Holy Union Sisters. The representatives come together on a monthly basis to fight human trafficking.
The primary focus of the coalition is to educate the community on the issue of human trafficking. They go to schools, parishes, and various places to raise awareness about the issue and what can be done to stop it.
For six years, the coalition has been hosting an annual symposium on human trafficking, and it brings in different speakers to talk about the issue on a global, national, and local level. There is not much awareness about the prevalence of human trafficking, so it is crucial to educate the community about it.
“Education leads to awareness, which then leads to action,” said McGoldrick.
A new initiative of the coalition this year is the SOAP Project, or Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. According to their website, “SOAP is an Outreach that aims to distribute thousands of bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and key identifying questions free to local motels.” The coalition recently became involved with this outreach, and is hoping to launch it this spring.
The coalition is also involved with a safe house initiative, called the Josephine Bakhita House, where victims of human trafficking can go to live in a safe place. Members of the coalition work with the government on issues of human trafficking, and were advocates of the recently passed, strong anti-trafficking laws in Massachusetts.
McGoldrick and Cummins both expressed hopefulness in Pope Francis’ recent focus on the issue of human trafficking. They are glad that he is emphasizing the issue and is trying to do something about it.
“The pope witnesses to the dignity of every human person,” said McGoldrick.
Human trafficking takes away that dignity and looks at humans as objects to make money off. Pope Francis brings visibility to this issue. Because of his actions, it is clear that he is sincere about his concerns. The coalition and the worldwide Church are working towards the same goal – the prevention and eradication of human trafficking.
The coalition holds an annual silent prayer vigil in January on the Sunday closest to the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The goal of the group of women religious is to try to keep people aware by sending out information about human trafficking and holding events such as the vigil or symposium in the area.
“We, as a coalition, are involved in educating about human trafficking with the hopes of eradicating this modern day slavery,” said McGoldrick.