by Jay Chin
Pope Francis marked this February 8 as the first “International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.” The Holy Father used the sermon before the Sunday Angelus prayer to preach to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square before the midday prayer, stating how this issue is a “wound unworthy of civil society” and recalling that Jesus favors the physically and spiritually wounded, those who society ostracizes. Pope Francis asked for Mary’s intercession, that through her all may experience “the power of God’s love and the comfort of her maternal tenderness.”
Advocates against human trafficking have stated that this is one of several initiatives the Pope has taken to bring this issue to light. Martina Liebsch, Policy and Advocacy Director of Caritas
Internationalis, in an interview with Vatican Radio, explained that the Church and its related organizations have for a long time dealt with this issue, but that it has not been seen as an
integral part of the Church’s mission. By putting it in the forefront, she says he is “also reminding the faithful that we can do a lot, that we have our parishes where victims appear, and that
we are really called to live as Christians.”
His excellency Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB committee for migration, said that “if just one person realized from this day that they or someone they know is being trafficked, we will have made a difference.” A Light Against Human Trafficking, an interactive website for registering vigils and other prayer gatherings for this day, recorded nearly 2,700 responses to the Holy Father’s call, the countries with the most participants being Brazil, Italy, and France.
February 8 was chosen for this day of prayer is because it is the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita. Born in 1869 to a well-off family in Olgossa, Sudan, she lived her the first seven years of her life in peace. In 1877, Arab slave traders kidnapped her; they called her Bakhita, Arabic for fortunate, and sold her to a merchant as a servant to his daughters. After being sold as if nothing more than a possession for several times, one of her mistresses, the wife of a Turkish general, cut her with a razor blade 114 times and poured salt into the wounds to ensure that they would scar. She gained her freedom when she refused to return to Sudan with her fifth Master, an Italian. With the help of the superior of the Canossian sisters, they brought the case to the Italian court where she was proclaimed a free since because Italy did not recognize slavery. Bakhita was brought into the Church by the future Pope St. Pius X in 1890. Six years later, she joined the Canossians where she worked as a portress and sacristan in Venice. Her gentleness and holiness made her beloved in the city. Pope St. John Paul II canonized her in the 2000.