TRAFFICKING IN HUMANS IS “MAJOR CHALLENGE OF OUR TIMES,” SAYS POPE
This morning in the Consistory Hall Pope Francis received around a hundred members of the Santa Marta Group on the occasion of the third Conference of this international organization against human trafficking.
Launched in 2014 by Pope Francis and chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, the Santa Marta Group is composed of police chiefs, bishops, religious sisters and representatives from civil society, and aims to forge relationships of trust between police and the Church, especially religious sisters, enabling this crime to be defeated and the victims to be accompanied, assisted, and ultimately reintegrated into society.
At a concluding press conference Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, one of the founding members of the group, and two survivors of human trafficking spoke of the progress that has been made over the past couple of years. (photo L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis, in his words to the group, described trafficking as “one of the major challenges of our time” and he praised participants for the important contribution they’re making to end this scourge of modern slavery.
The number of victims, he noted, keeps growing year by year and it’s essential both to support victims of trafficking, but also to tackle the complex problems that lead to their exploitation.
“Dear friends, I thank you and I encourage you to continue in your efforts. The Lord will know how to compensate for what is done to the least in today’s society. ‘I was hungry, I was thirsty’, and you helped me; Today He could also say, ‘I was abused, exploited, enslaved’, and you came to my aid. I continue to accompany you with my closeness and my prayer. And you too, please, pray for me.”
Cardinal Nichols told journalists the group had presented the Pope with the a report of positive developments in the 30 countries that are now part of the Santa Marta process.
Above all perhaps, what this report shows is that human slavery and trafficking is not so hidden as it used to be. There is an increasing awareness that this, in the phrase of the Holy Father, is an open wound in the flesh of humanity, and that voices that were once completely hidden are now being heard”.
Those voices include that of Nigerian survivor Princess Inyang, who was trafficked into Italy in 1999 and forced into prostitution, until she was able to escape, with help from a priest working in the northern city of Asti. She shared her story at the conference and called for deportation of the traffickers, as well as more education and skills training for vulnerable girls in her home country…
“The women are vulnerable because of the poverty in Nigeria, the background of the polygamy system of the families, the non-employment, and now we know that the traffickers go into the rural areas to get these young women because of their serious problems”.
Another survivor, who also works to help others avoid the traffickers, is former Premier League player Al Bangura, originally from Sierra Leone. A keen footballer from an early age, he was tricked into going to England with promises of a dream career. He managed to escape the traffickers and now serves as ambassador for a UK based charity called Sport for Freedom.
“With everything I’ve been through, I want to be out there to share my story, to educate kids and talk to parents who’re desperate for their kids to achieve….we also work with the Premiership… to make sure the kids are going in the rights direction and make sure we stop this slavery thing.”
Before the conference, Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns said, “At the first meeting of the Santa Marta Group in 2014 Pope Francis called for ‘the adoption of an effective strategy against human trafficking, so that in every part of the world, men and women may no longer be used as a means to an end, and that their inviolable dignity may always be respected.’ For such a strategy to work, all sections of Irish society have a role to play in confronting the secretive and pernicious activities of human trafficking and modern slavery.”
He also noted, continued, “Especially through our two key councils, for immigrants and for justice and peace, as well as with our aid agency Trócaire, Irish bishops are committed to raising awareness about this challenging and dreadful crime which targets the most vulnerable sector in our society. The Santa Marta Group represents an opportunity to further develop the partnership work of the Church and law enforcement agencies that are engaged in tackling these issues both in Ireland and at the international level.
From Africa to Latin America, from Asia to Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East, the conference heard many encouraging stories of success in combatting the trade in people for prostitution, forced labour or sale of their body parts. But as their report also underlines, there is much frustration too, coupled with a renewed determination to work more effectively together for an end to what Pope Francis himself describes as a “crime against humanity.” (sources; news.va, Vatican Radio, CCN)