February 6, 2015

Human trafficking is focus of Feb. 8 international day of prayer

By John Shaughnessy

Connecting with the Vatican’s announcement that Feb. 8 will be the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, the archdiocese is calling on all parishes to pray for victims of modern-day slavery and promote the human dignity of all people.

As part of that effort, parishes are encouraged to include this general intercession at all Masses on Feb. 8: “For an end to human trafficking in the world, that the dignity of every human person be protected and respected, we pray to the Lord.”

The first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking reflects Pope Francis’ commitment to raising awareness to a problem that he describes as “a crime against humanity.” The pope is also committed to seeking solutions to this tragedy that has been increasing in Indiana, the United States and around the world.

Nearly 36 million children, women and men are currently the victims of modern-day slavery—mostly in sex trafficking and labor trafficking—according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index.

In Indiana, there were 100 investigations of human trafficking in 2014, according to the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans Task Force.

A press release from the task force noted that “83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens.” The release also stated that “commercial sex fuels sex trafficking of children”— involving nearly 300,000 American children, starting as young as age 12.

Responding to the international concern, Pope Francis and leaders of other religions signed a declaration in December of 2014 promising to work together to stop human trafficking by 2020. The leaders represented the Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox faiths.

Earlier in 2014, the Vatican helped to start the Global Freedom Network—an effort undertaken to restore human dignity to victims of modern-day slavery, hold accountable the criminals involved in it, and prevent it from happening.

Pope Francis also made modern-day slavery a focus of his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). Sharing his views on how the problem impacts all people because it robs victims of their human dignity, the pope wrote:

“How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: ‘Where is your brother?’ Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor. Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone!”

That message is echoed by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, the co-chair of the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans Task Force.

“It’s not a subject that’s easy to talk about, but one that needs attention,” says Zoeller, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “I’m glad the Catholic Church is bringing this to global attention, and also to attention here in Indiana.”

One of the solutions that Zoeller proposes in attacking human trafficking is to change the focus of criminal activity involving prostitution. He notes that many young females who become involved in prostitution often run away from homes where they have been abused. On the streets, they often become targets of human trafficking where the abuse continues. Yet when they turn 18, they’re “arrested and treated as a criminal,” Zoeller says.

“I honestly believe we need to focus on the demand side,” the attorney general says. “Purchasing another human being cannot be tolerated in our society.”

Zoeller believes that men must become more vocal and active in making sure that prostitution is not viewed as “socially acceptable.”

“You look at this whole picture, and you wonder why we let it go this long and without much outrage,” Zoeller says.

The choice of Feb. 8 for the day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking is symbolic because it’s the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, noted a press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

St. Josephine “was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy,” the release stated. “Once Josephine was freed, she became a Canossian nun and dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering.”

Pope Francis is once again calling Catholics to that same commitment.

(Catholic News Service contributed to this story.)

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