In early February, as the feast of St Josephine Bakhita is marked, the Church remembers all those who have been trafficked and sold into slavery.
Pope Francis, who has continued the papal tradition of clear denunciation of human trafficking and slavery, has designated St Josephine Bakhita’s 8 February feast day as a day of prayer, reflection and action to end the injustice of human trafficking.
St Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint for victims of slavery, was born in the west Sudanese region of Darfur in 1869. As a young girl, she was kidnapped for slavery in both Sudan and Italy.
Following her delivery from slavery, Josephine became a Canossian Sister and dedicated her life to sharing her story and to support the poor and suffering. She died on 8 February 1947 and was canonised in 2000.
Parishes, schools and individuals are being urged to take action to eliminate slavery in all its forms.
A 2016 United Nations report uncovered more than 500 different human trafficking routes across many parts of the world. It is estimated that millions of women, girls, men and boys are trafficked annually into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, pornography, forced marriage and forced labour. Almost 80 percent of detected victims of trafficking are women and girls.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Australian Catholic Religious Against the Trafficking of Humans (ACRATH) are calling for a fourfold commitment to: slavery prevention, victim protection, legal prosecution of perpetrators and partnerships for change. This commitment, they say, begins with awareness-raising and action at all levels of society.
ACBC and ACRATH are encouraging parishes and other Church communities to mark the feast day at weekend Masses on 3 and 4 February and on 8 February.
Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, chairman of the Bishops Commission for Justice, Ecology and Development, said support for the commemoration of the feast day continues the Australian Church’s focus on this important issue.
Last November, the ACBC endorsed the ‘Statement of Support for an Australian Modern Slavery Act’ prepared by the Human Rights Commission Roundtable earlier in 2017.
‘St Josephine Bakhita’s feast day is an opportunity to raise awareness about human trafficking,’ Bishop O’Kelly said.
‘Pope Francis has called us to make a difference. Our steps may be small, but together we can achieve a great deal, especially when we work with others to stop human trafficking.’
ACRATH president Sr Noelene Simmons SM said: “Our joint statement supports the Worldwide Network of Religious Life Against Trafficking in Persons in calling on governments, religious and civic organisations to unite and to increase their commitment to reduce the crime of human trafficking.
‘In this age of unprecedented mass migration brought on by conflict and natural disaster, women and children are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked and exploited. Through our prayer and our actions, let us be advocates for their freedom and dignity.
Parish resources have been developed to mark this day and can be accessed here.