April 5, 2019


Too many of our sisters and brothers do not live free

Commitment to end slavery in all its forms is rooted in the Catechism of the Church, which forbids any act leading to the enslavement of humans—a sin against a person’s dignity and fundamental human rights (CCC #2414). This commitment was reaffirmed during the Second Vatican Council, when the Church stated that “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, [and] disgraceful working conditions where [people] are treated as mere tools for profit” are “infamies” and a “supreme dishonor to the Creator” (from the “Catholic Social Teaching and the Church’s Fight to End Trafficking” page of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website).

We celebrate the Easter triduum this month on April 18-21 as the holiest days of the Church year. This is the time of year when we recall—in the most vivid terms possible—the supreme sacrifice that Jesus made for each one of us.

St. Paul tell us, in the words of an early Christian hymn, that Jesus humbled himself and became a slave for our sake. Although he was God, he emptied himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross. ​Jesus’ death, and his resurrection from the dead, freed us from the slavery of sin and death. By his wounds, we have been healed. By his victory over the power of death, we have been liberated.

And yet, far too many of our sisters and brothers throughout the world do not know what it means to live free.

Did you know that an estimated 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor, bonded labor and sexual exploitation each year? ​Did you know that nearly 20,000 enslaved people (mainly women and children) are “trafficked” into the United States each year? Or that 100,000 American children are the victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year?

Traffickers lure vulnerable women, children and men with false promises of good jobs, an education, economic security and even love. Once lured, the traffickers are able to keep their victims from seeking help by confiscating identification documents, using threats of violence against the victim or their family, as well as subjecting the victim to physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse. No sector or industry is immune from human trafficking. Victims have been identified in factories, restaurants, construction sites, agricultural fields, hotels, spas, nail salons and even private residences.

Human trafficking is possible because of the lack of laws against it, the lack of enforcement of such laws where they do exist, and the ease and ability to re-exploit individuals. Human trafficking has become the fastest growing source of profits for criminal enterprises worldwide.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned human trafficking, stating that human trafficking “constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights.”

For more than a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been a leader in the U.S. and global response to human trafficking. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking consists of national and international Catholic agencies working to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking by:

  • Formulating plans for combating trafficking and serving its victims.
  • Promoting development of services for trafficking victims and approaches to empowerment of trafficking victims.
  • Dialoging with government officials and others engaged in public policies affecting this issue.
  • Devising strategies for public education, awareness-raising and grass roots action.

For more information, visit the Vatican’s website at bit.ly/2uDvdPl or the USCCB website at bit.ly/2WGnFYe.

The freedom won for us by our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection cries out to heaven for liberty and justice for all regardless of their nationality, religious background, social or economic condition. All human beings were set free by the cross of Christ. All are equal in the sight of God. All are called to be united with each other and with him.

This Lent, let’s dedicate ourselves to proclaiming liberty for all who are enslaved—whether by means of human trafficking or by more subtle forms of slavery caused by domestic violence or addiction to alcohol, drugs or pornography. Let’s put an end to the evils of human trafficking and sexual exploitation once and for all! And let’s work to overcome the habits of self-indulgence and abusive behavior toward others that are so prevalent in our global culture.

—Daniel Conway

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