Pope Francis has released a video message on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, marked in the Catholic Church on the feast of St Josephine Bakhita,  February 8.

By Vatican News staff reporter

Pope Francis is urging all to join the fight against the scourge of trafficking in women and girls, saying in a video message for the 8th World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, that it is violence, “a deep and open wound in the body of Christ and in the body of all humanity, which affects each one of us.”

The Catholic Church’s annual observance was first introduced by Pope Francis in 2015, when he invited the women religious of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the men religious of the Union of Superiors General (USG) to mark the day on 8 February, the liturgical memorial of St Josephine Bakhita.

The Sudanese-born Italian Canossian nun (1869 – 1947) was sold several times as a slave since she was 7 or 8, until she landed in Italy where she later became a Canossian religious sister.  Declared a saint in 2000, she is the patron saint of Sudan and of human trafficking survivors.

The theme of the 8th International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is: “The power of care.”

In his message, the Pope says the theme “invites us to consider the condition of women and girls, subjected to multiple forms of exploitation, including forced marriages, domestic and labour slavery”. He stresses that the thousands of women and girls who are trafficked every year point to the dramatic consequences of relational models based on discrimination and submission.

Inequality in dignity and rights

Talitha Kum, the international Catholic network against human trafficking, cites some grim facts from United Nations data pointing to the inequality and injustice experienced by women.  They are conditions that make them more vulnerable to violence, trafficking and exploitation.

In his message, the Holy Father laments that the organization of societies around the world still continue to deny women the same dignity and rights of that of men.  Women are “doubly poor”, suffering “situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence”, because they have fewer opportunities to defend their rights.

Domestic and sexual exploitation

The Holy Father points out that “trafficking in persons, through domestic and sexual exploitation, violently returns women and girls to their supposed role as subordinates to the provision of domestic and sexual services, to their role as providers of care and dispensers of pleasure, which re-proposes a pattern of relationships marked by the power of men over women”. This exists even today at a high level.

 “Human trafficking is violence! The violence suffered by every woman and every girl is an open wound in the body of Christ, in the body of all humanity, it is a deep wound that also affects each one of us.”

The transforming power of God’s care

Noting that there are many women who have the courage to rebel against violence, Pope Francis invites men to join the battle. “We men are also called to do so, to say no to all violence, including that against women and girls. And together we can and must fight to ensure that human rights are interpreted in a specific way, respecting diversity and recognizing the dignity of each person, with a special concern for those whose fundamental rights are violated.”

The way to this transformation, the Pope says, is shown by Saint Bakhita, whose life proves that  “change is possible when we allow ourselves to be transformed by the care that God has for each of us”.  “It is the care of mercy, it is the care of love that changes us in our depths and makes us capable of welcoming others as brothers and sisters.”

Human dignity

The Pope points out that recognizing the dignity of each person is the first act of care, which benefits everyone – those who give and those who receive. It generates reciprocity and is not a unidirectional action.

In this regard, he cites the case of Bakhita.  God took care of her, accompanying her in the process of healing the wounds caused by slavery until he made her heart, mind and inner-self capable of reconciliation, freedom and tenderness.

Commitment to transformation and care

The Pope thus encourages every woman and every girl who is committed to transformation and care, in school, in the family, in society. He also urges every man and every young person to join this process of transformation, holding out the example of the Good Samaritan who is “not ashamed to bend down over his brother and take care of him”.

This year’s observance of World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking, the Pope says, is to the call to men and women to care.  “Together we can grow an economy of care and oppose with all our strength every form of exploitation of trafficking in persons.”

Fighting money, power

Pope Francis concludes his video message thanking participants in the various initiatives of the annual observance worldwide and encouraging them in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of slavery and exploitation. He invites them to keep alive their indignation against human trafficking with determination in the face of violence, without giving to the corruption of money and power.

(To download the papal video message: https://we.tl/t-tNjZCrPxeY)