Sunday’s first International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking is the latest in a series of actions.

This has been a hallmark of Francis’ papacy, this deep distress for victims of ‘the throwaway culture’ the widespread abuse of humans in so many terrible ways, met by (he warned) the ‘globalization of indifference,’ where people live ‘in bubbles.’ He said these things, in a stirring if not stunning homily, in his first apostolic journey outside Rome after being elected pope, on the small island of Lampedusa, destination for so many refugees who perished at sea under harsh conditions, many trafficked by profiteers. He said we fail to see these people, and asked, woefully, how it is that we could fail to see these people.

I wish to offer some thoughts to challenge people’s consciences, to lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart”.

“’Adam, where are you?’ This is the first question God poses to man after his sin. Adam lost his bearings, his place in creation because he thought he could be powerful, able to control everything, to be God. Harmony was lost, man errs and this error occurs over and over again also in relationships with others. The ‘other’ who is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply another person who disturbs our lives and our comfort. God asks a second question, ‘Cain, where is your brother?’ The illusion of being powerful, of being as great as God, even of being God Himself, leads to a whole series of errors, a chain of death, even to the spilling of a brother’s blood! God’s two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever. How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live … we do not take care of that which God created for all of us, and we are no longer capable even of looking after each other. And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.

This homily and its message laid groundwork that connected to Francis’ longtime concerns for the castoffs of society.

Today no-one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters; we have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘poor soul…!’, and then go on our way; it’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalisation of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others, it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it is none of my business. The globalisation of indifference makes us all ‘unnamed’, responsible yet nameless and faceless…

And meanwhile, human trafficking has grown as a global ‘industry’ and it has become what is often referred to, correctly, as the new slavery. Like in this post about ‘Buying and Selling People’, reported by Caritas, a Catholic Church mission.

Pope Francis said last December, “Trafficking in human persons is a crime against humanity. We must join forces to free the victims and to stop this ever more aggressive crime, which threatens not only individual persons, but also the foundational values of society, as well as international security and justice, along with the economy, family structure and social life.”

That can work very well and has, demonstrably, when Church and State collaborate in goodwill as best they both can within their realms.

Clarifying the unique contributions of both civil authority and the church, Pope Francis said:

“Our meeting today includes law enforcement authorities, who are primarily responsible for combating this tragic reality by a vigorous application of the law. It also includes humanitarian and social workers, whose task it is to provide victims with welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life. These are two different approaches, but they can and must go together.”

The gentleness and compassion of the sisters have their place alongside the firmness of the UK police. The victims must be cared for in the warmest and most loving manner possible, and the perpetrators, on account of the grisly nature of their trade, must be pursued and punished with force.

It is not the gift of all to be warm and loving enough to earn the trust of these victims. Nor is it the gift of all to have the strength and the resilience to confront the perpetrators. Both extremes are required because both extremes are present. The extreme of total devastation needs to be covered in total mercy, as frostbite needs a total, and gradual, thaw. The extreme of total aggression and lust needs to be extinguished in total justice, as a bonfire needs to be doused in gallons of water.

Here, the Catholic Church and the United Kingdom are reaching out to each other, each realizing the other’s unique and essential role in combating human trafficking. The Church cannot search boats or conduct raids or impose legal restrictions on certain nations or groups, nor can the United Kingdom create a network of compassionate people dedicated to serving others who will love, cherish, and rehabilitate the victims.

Very clarifying. The article also goes on to show what happens when political activism intervenes to block the Catholic Church from doing what its ministries and social services have done best to serve and care for the vulnerable and abused. In the US. those services were barred from reaching the neediest because of ideological agenda.

But look at what they are doing when allowed to serve freely, like these sisters in the Philippines. It’s extraordinary. And breathtaking. Read it and weep. And be thankful for the dedicated servants who aren’t looking the other way, or failing to notice the enslaved at all.

The problem is global and growing.

“Official data reported to UNODC (United National Office on Drugs and Crime) by national authorities represent only what has been detected. It is very clear that the scale of modern-day slavery is far worse.”

Look at the fact sheet from just what they do know.

And in places we don’t tend to think about, the children who are falling through the cracksin so many places.

International Child Protection Attorney Elizabeth Yore lists resources to get informed about human trafficking and start to do something. She added this one in one of several discussions with me on radio.

So much can and must be done. Which gets back to Sunday’s International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking.

Strikingly, the prayer day announced in Tuesday’s news conference will bring together several Vatican departments as well as the main umbrella groups for women and men in religious orders, since those congregations have long been on the front lines of the anti-trafficking fight.

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the prayer day is a mobilization on a global scale.

“Our awareness must expand and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches,” Turkson said, “from awareness to prayer … from prayer to solidarity … and from solidarity to concerted action, until slavery and trafficking are no more.”

The date for the initiative is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, considered a patron saint for trafficking victims. Born in 1868 in Darfur, Sudan, she was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery, first in her country and later in Italy. She died in 1947 and was declared a saint by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000.

Read the whole article. It’s compelling, as Francis and the Vatican intend the event to be.

Sister Carmen Sammut of Malta, a member of the Missionary Servants of Our Lady of Africa and the president of the International Union of Superiors General, said the day of prayer is intended to achieve two things:

First is a lament in the Biblical sense: “We want to cry out in the name of all the victims [and ask], ‘Until when, Lord’?”

Secondly, “We want to light up the world, that is, to bring hope to those who are without hope.”

That, and more.

When presenting the initiative in the United States in December, the auxiliary bishop of Seattle, Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the US committee for migration, said that “if just one person realizes from this day that they or someone they know is being trafficked, we will have made a difference.”

This is an ongoing, determined mission fueled by the fire of Francis’ passion for the ‘throwaways’ of the culture.

The theme of Pope Francis’ Message for the 48th World Day of Peace, held Jan. 1, was “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.”

“We ought to recognize,” Francis wrote, “that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”

And with persistent commitment. This requires much more attention. Stay tuned.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....