January 25, 2024

Verbatim: Sr. Nancy Brown on combating human trafficking


Sr. Nancy Brown, of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, says the Feb. 8 Feast Day of St. Josephine Bakhita should focus attention to combat the scourge.

“Human trafficking disfigures dignity. Exploitation and subjugation limit freedom and turn people into objects to use and discard. And the system of trafficking profits from the injustice and wickedness that oblige millions of people to live in conditions of vulnerability.” 
-- Pope Francis

Pope Francis has challenged young people to be missionaries of human dignity, to be agents of change in eliminating human trafficking and all forms of exploitation. From Feb. 2 to 8, more than 50 youth from all over the world will take up the challenge and gather in Rome for a week to study the global reality of human trafficking, to join in the prayer pilgrimage and to celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.

The theme of this year’s pilgrimage of prayer is “Journeying in Dignity: Listen, Dream, Act.” We are all called to listen deeply to what is happening in our world, to dream new possibilities for a just society and to act against the tide of violence and exploitation. The violence will continue to grow unless we break the silence and expose the reality of trafficking of women and children. Very appropriately this pilgrimage of prayer (https://www.youtube.com/c/preghieracontrotratta.org) takes place every year on Feb. 8, the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, who is the patron saint of survivors of human trafficking.

St. Josephine, born in 1869 in Darfur, Sudan, had a happy childhood until it turned into a nightmare. At age nine, she was captured by slave-traders and her body sold repeatedly causing such extreme pain that she dissociated, forgetting even her family name.

Unfortunately, the same brutality that St. Josephine endured in her life continues in many parts of our world today. Women and children continue to be the hidden ones, experiencing horrific abuse, neglect and death in many parts of our world while society remains silent.

After several years of intense suffering, St. Josephine met her grace as she was sent to Italy where she found her true self. In 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant and assigned as a nanny for a daughter of a friend who was studying with the Canossian Sisters. Through this experience, she was introduced to Christianity, became Catholic and eventually became a religious woman. The transformation in her life can only be accounted for by the grace of God shown through the compassionate care of friends and a healthy environment. Her liberation enabled her to outreach in service to others, spreading compassion to those living in poverty in her neighbourhood.

Women and children in Canada today need this same assistance of a caring community for them to leave their exploitation. They need the protection of our Canadian law through legislation such as Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act to assure their safety, freedom and protection from further violence. For more information about trafficking in Canada, read the Canadian Bishops pastoral letter “For Freedom Christ has Set Us Free” on the cccb.ca website

The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is an invitation to all people of goodwill, young people and children, people of different religious beliefs and traditions, cultures and generations. Together in this journey, we, as pilgrims of human dignity with hope, dream and action against all forms of exploitation and human trafficking embark on a synodal journey to listen deeply to what is happening around us and to act with courage and determination for change.

May St. Josephine Bakhita strengthen and compel us to serve our sisters and brothers through listening, dreaming and acting, saying no to violence and overcoming human trafficking and all forms of exploitation. May we all discover pathways to peace and justice in creating a world of dignity.

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