Social Justice: Parishes encouraged to pray for end to human trafficking

By Barbara Budde

The movie “Twelve Years a Slave” brings the horrors of our past engagement with slavery to the big screen and to the consciences of all who see it or read the book. We may shake our heads and think, “Thank God the evil of human slavery is past.” Unfortunately that is not true! Though public buying and selling of slaves is no longer tolerated, the trafficking of human persons is alive and sadly, human slavery remains a thriving economic industry.
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines human trafficking as “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited (as by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor).” A much longer and more comprehensive definition can be found on the website for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. However complex a definition, human trafficking is a sin against human persons and, therefore, a concern for the church.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop an estimated 17,000 persons are trafficked into the U.S. every year. Many are men, women and children fleeing brutal poverty or violence abroad who are ensnared in a web of horror involving the sex trade or forced labor. Sometimes, victims of trafficking are American teens leaving home or just trying to “make it” in the movies or modeling. No matter if the victim is young, old, male, female, U.S. citizen or not, the trapping, enslaving and trafficking is an atrocity that must end.
The U.S. bishops are inviting parishes to participate in the “Become a Shepherd” program. Shepherd is an acronym for “Stop Human trafficking and Exploitation, Protect, Help, Empower, and Restore Dignity.” We are invited to pray on Feb. 8, the feast of St. Josephina Bakhita, a victim of human trafficking. St. Josephina was kidnapped as a young girl and sold into slavery in Sudan. Eventually she was sold to an Italian diplomat who brought her to Italy where she became the nanny for the child of family friends. 
Circumstances led to Josephina and the child to spend some time with the Canossian Sisters. While there, Josephine was catechized, baptized and sought her freedom so she could join this religious community. She died in 1947 after 50 years with the Canossian Sisters and was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000. The life and holiness of St. Josephina provide an opportunity for us to learn more about how we can be pro-active in ending this modern day slavery through prayer, action and advocacy. Her dedication shows us that we are not helpless in the face of evil. 
The “Become a Shepherd” program is a way to begin. For more information go to the Anti-Trafficking Program Office of the USCCB at where there is information on all the efforts of the bishops to address human trafficking. There are links to important information such as ways to recognize victims of human trafficking and National Human Trafficking Hotline number 1-888-373-7888. Scroll down on that page to find a link for the “Become a Shepherd Tool Kit.” There are links for more information about St. Josephina Bakhita and samples of a prayer service parishes can have to end human trafficking. Parishes can e-mail the Migration and Refugee Services department to get a tool kit to help shut down slave trade once and for all. 
The feast day of St. Josephina gives us an opportunity during Black History Month (February) to pray to one of our own Black Catholic saints for courage and determination. Her life story reminds us that God can and does act, even in the midst of the evil of human slavery and trafficking. Through the intercession of St. Josephina, we pray, act and advocate so that human slavery and trafficking can and will come to an end for the millions today who are caught in this human atrocity.

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