By Deborah Castellano Lubov
“I associate myself wholeheartedly with all of you around the world, especially the young, who are working to combat this global scourge.”
Pope Francis made this vehement appeal to combat and eradicate human trafficking in his message released on Thursday on the occasion of the 10th World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, repeating, “It is never too late to take action.”
The Church’s theme for this year’s Day is “Journeying in Dignity: Listen, Dream, Act.”
The Catholic Church’s annual observance was first introduced by Pope Francis in 2015, when he invited the women religious’ International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the men religious’ Union of Superiors General (USG) to mark the day on 8 February, the liturgical memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita.
Declared a saint in the year 2000, Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and of human trafficking survivors. The Sudanese-born Italian Cannosian nun (1869–1947) was sold as a child into slavery and was a victim of traffickers until she landed in Italy, where she later became a Cannosian religious sister.
The United Nations separately marks its own World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July.
Journeying in Dignity: Listen, Dream, Act
In his message, the Pope urged everyone to walk in the footsteps of Saint Bakhita.
“Let us remember the wrong she endured, her suffering, but at the same time her strength and her journey of liberation and rebirth to a new life,” he recalled. “Saint Bakhita encourages us to open our eyes and ears to see those who go unseen and to hear those who have no voice, to acknowledge the dignity of each person, and to fight trafficking and all forms of exploitation.”
Lamenting that trafficking often goes unseen, the Pope thanked the media that bring to light modern forms of slavery, as well as the culture of indifference that surrounds it.
“Let us help one another,” he urged, “to be more responsive, to open our lives and hearts to our sisters and brothers, who even now are being bought and sold as slaves. It is never too late to take action.”
The Pope also thanked God for the many young people who have taken up the challenge of the Day, saying their enthusiasm and commitment “show us the way,” reminding us “we are called to listen, dream, and act in order to counter trafficking.”
Listening to the cry of the suffering
The Pope appealed for listening to the suffering victims. “I think of the victims of wars and conflicts, those affected by climate change, those forced to migrate, and those, especially women and children, who are exploited sexually or in the workplace.”
“May we listen to their cry for help and feel challenged by the stories they tell,” he said.
The Holy Father encouraged all efforts that better enable people to live with freedom and dignity.
Concreteness required to combat the scourge
The Pope urged everyone to take action to combat trafficking.
At each and every level, he exhorted, “Let us pray fervently and work proactively for this cause, the defence of human dignity.”
While we know the fight against trafficking “can be won,” he suggested, “it is necessary to get to the root of the problem and eliminate its causes.”
A call to action and avoid complicity
The Pope went on to encourage all efforts to respond to the scourge, following St. Bakhita’s example.
“It is a call to take action, to mobilize all our resources in combatting trafficking and restoring full dignity to those who have been its victims,” he said, warning, “If we close our eyes and ears, if we do nothing, we will be guilty of complicity.”
Pope Francis concluded by expressing his heartfelt gratitude to everyone engaged in the celebration of this Day, and blessing all those committed to combating trafficking and all forms of exploitation.