Monthly Reflection Archives

March, 2017

The Tenth Station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24)

by Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Contemplation

During Lent this year, I was asked to reflect on the tenth station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24). While it is not the Lenten season, I encourage you to become acquainted with Daia, who is so representative of women who are trafficked.

The name we know her by is Daia, but that isn’t her birth name. When Daia was twelve she ran away from home and her mother’s current abusive boyfriend. Within two days on the streets, a young and fun-loving older boy promised her a safe place to stay, food and a chance to be a just-discovered model. Daia thought, “a dream come true.” It became a nightmare of posing for pornographic images and being sold for sex by the boy who made false promises. She, like Jesus, was stripped of her clothing, humiliated and exposed to harsh, unforgiving eyes.

This terrible trauma lasted for many months, until one night she was left for dead in a motel room – beaten for not “meeting expectations” and bringing a good return on the boy’s “investment.” She survived and with help from a small, local organization dedicated to helping victims of trafficking, found her way to healing and recovery. Now she is clothed, praised for her strength to rebuild her life, and the eyes looking at her express pride and encouragement.

Personal Reflection

Daia and so many other women and young girls like her live in your city, maybe even in your neighborhood. You may have seen one of them in your hospital’s emergency department or at the truck stop on the Interstate. She may even be a student in your high school or university. When you see a woman or young girl you suspect is being trafficked, stripped of her dignity, what can you do? You can respond with compassion, being careful to not put her at risk and you can call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. They will give you safe, accurate information. If it is an emergency situation, call local law enforcement. Whatever you do, don’t look away or remain silent. Mercy requires this of us.

Prayer

Blessed are they who have survived for they will show us courage and hope, dare us to see clearly and to be their voice.

February, 2017

St. Josephine Bakhita: A Saint For Our Time

By the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center

During the month of February, we commemorate St. Josephine Bakhita, who has come to be known as a symbol of hope for Catholics in the anti-human trafficking movement. St. Josephine was sold into slavery as a young girl in her home country of Sudan, but later in life she escaped and became a Canossian sister in Italy.

St. Josephine Bakhita’s story, although occurring over one hundred years ago, reflects some of the same realities that many human trafficking victims face today. There are so many untold stories of individuals trapped in situations of exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion. We have a tendency in doing this work to lump these stories together into statistics and data in an effort to convey to people the how human trafficking reaches every corner of the earth, every industry, gender, and age group. St. Josephine reminds us that behind these statistics are nearly 21 million individual stories of suffering.

St. Josephine reminds us of a man we work with who for years was exploited right here in the United States at a sandwich shop and was then apprehended by U.S. immigration officials for being undocumented. I think of his resilience in advocating for himself and obtaining legal residency and using his voice to shed light on the issue of human trafficking that occurs right here in our backyard.

St. Josephine reminds us of the service providers who work 12 hour days to assist in providing for human trafficking survivors’ basic needs after escaping exploitation. This type of dedication can only be brought out through immense compassion and hope.

St. Josephine reminds us of the people overseas who are exploited making the products we in the western world could not imagine our lives without. Cell phones, clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other products have a higher cost than just the money we pay for them, a cost paid in the suffering of those who are not paid a fair wage, work long hours, and do not have access to safety equipment.

So, to commemorate these stories, we invite you to honor St. Josephine on her Feast Day, February 8th, and to hold in your heart all victims of human trafficking in three ways:

  1. Gather your family, religious community, and friends to say the prayer of St. Josephine Bakhita (below).
  2. Choose one of the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking’s Educational Modules to study and reflect upon.
  3. Contact your Members of Congress by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to continue the work to end human trafficking globally.

As people of faith, we have a long legacy of commemorating those who have gone before us to pave the way for justice. So on February 8th, let us continue the work to end human trafficking and celebrate how far we’ve come.

St. Josephine Bakhita, you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with
Christ and his Church.

O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a
state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf
so that they will be released from their chains
of captivity.

Those whom man enslaves, let God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery
and let them look to you as an example of hope
and faith.

Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for
those enslaved among us.

Amen

 

Prayer: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services

 

The Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center is a member organization of the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking. IPJC is sponsored by 21 religious communities and works for justice in the church and in the world through education, advocacy and organizing.

January, 2017

A CALL to be LIGHT-BEARERS

Sister Margaret Nacke, CSJ

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. Although January is the beginning of a New Year, the topic of human trafficking is not new nor will it offer millions of women, men, and children across the globe, including the United States, an opportunity for a new lease on life. The month ensures visibility on the issue of trafficking but January 31st cannot be the end of reminding the public that the slavery of people is intolerable in any society that calls itself human. In some parts of the world, January is a month that is dark and cold, an apt parallel to the millions whose lives have been relegated to commodity status, to slavery, and live in a world darkened by the selfishness and greed of those whose own lives are without light.

Who are these slaves who live in the shadow of death, whose dignity is abused and ignored and whose lives are given in obedience to money makers and evil doers? They are children who will never see the inside of a classroom because they work like “little adults” day in and day out, harvesting the cocoa for chocolate they will never taste. They are young men who cannot dream of a better life because every moment is governed by the number of fish they catch in waters far away from their homelands. They are older men who work in the depths of the earth, mining coal that will warm the homes they will never visit. These slaves are women who will never stand in their own kitchens and prepare meals for their children because they are in servitude in other kitchens to masters or mistresses whose consciences do not allow an opening for the light of human respect.

St. Francis of Assisi says that “all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a small candle.” It may not be a candle, but each of us has the power to illuminate the paths of those whose lives we touch or even never will touch. Each of us is called to be a bearer of light. The prayers we offer can be that light. Prayer is without boundaries. It can reach across genders, cultures, countries and even into the lives of the most desperate. Prayer offers life-support and the difference we make through prayer can make all the difference.

Remembering those who live in darkness – the trafficked as well as the traffickers and buyers of the slave trade – we pray the words of the song: Christ be our Light, shine in our hearts, shine in the darkness.

Sister Margaret Nacke, CSJ, is the founder of the Bakhita Initiative and a Founding Member of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.

December, 2016

Time to Look Back and Ahead

By Sister Jean Schafer, SDS

December 2016 offers us an occasion to look back and see how collaborative efforts within the anti-human-trafficking community have reaped concrete successes.

  • There are more residences and programs dedicated to providing safe havens for women and children coming out of situations of sexual exploitation and providing them healing from physical and psychological abuse.
  • Tech companies are designing tools to help enslaved workers be able to anonymously report on their plight and get help via their cell phones.
  • Consumers and retailers are growing in awareness of the importance of monitoring the supply chains of goods manufactured and brought into the country for sale. The tragedies of collapsed garment factories or of fish caught at the expense of enslaved men on fishing boats far out at sea is less and less tolerated.
  • Children, forced to work in dangerous mineral mines so we can buy new electronic devices every year, are no longer so easily ignored.
  • Parents are demanding that social media companies provide real online safety for their children.
  • Travelers expect hotels to prevent access to porn on their in-room cable channels.
  • Documentaries and fictional films have brought the reality of human trafficking into our vision and consciousness at increasingly meaningful levels.

These important achievements are the results of creative efforts by experts, as well as in response to expectations of concerned citizens.

We ought to feel a real sense of accomplishment and gratitude for these signs of progress, thanks to hard work, perseverance and creativity. Our global community becomes more compassionate as these efforts extend outward toward the vulnerable.

 

Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Pope Francis, Laudato Sí On Care for Our Common Home, May 24, 2015, para. 91

 

December 2016 can equally be an occasion to look ahead to the new year 2017 with resolve to continue our efforts, to invite more people to get involved, and to hold accountable those responsible for exploitation within labor sectors of every sort all over the globe.

  • More needs to be done to help parents find the information they need to protect their kids from tricks of online predation or Internet lures into pornography.
  • More needs to be done to help men realize their responsibility to help end the demand for the sexual exploitation of others.
  • More needs to be done to require businesses to monitor supply chains and discontinue contracts with suppliers who exploit workers.
  • More needs to be done to recognize sporting events as occasions of labor exploitation and sexual exploitation.
  • More needs to be done to see clearly how human trafficking advances when we ignore the interconnections among global climate change, political unrest and war, and the mass migrations of people. Being forced to leave home, culture, and means of a livelihood makes people prey to exploiters, who profit from their vulnerability.

 

Let us make it our collective resolve that in 2017 we will find groups with which to collaborate for the benefit of our global community, with special attention to lessening the harm and exploitation of the vulnerable.

trafficking-wordcloud

  • Learn the signs of human trafficking and watch out for the vulnerable people in your local environment.
  • Know how to report situations that do not look right.
  • Stand for respect of women and girls as full human persons, never as objects for manipulation and abuse.
  • Challenge the men in your circle of contacts to speak out against sexual exploitation in all its forms and to stand strongly as advocates for stopping the demand for sexual exploitation of others.

“It’s very easy to side with the perpetrator.
All they ask from us is our silence.”

-Judith Herman, Trauma & Recovery

  • Use your consumer power to purchase goods from businesses that are seriously monitoring their supply chains and contract only with suppliers who pay just wages and offer safe working conditions, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Boycott businesses that ignore supply chain injustices.
  • Pressure the Federal Communication Commission to eliminate all pornography from the airways and entertainment.

Sister Jean Schafer SDS is the Compiler/Editor of the ‘Stop Trafficking’ newsletter and a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.

November, 2016

Do my actions and beliefs reflect Redemption?

by Sister Sally Duffy, S.C.

A pattern of behaviors and conditions exist at the intersection of many issues, such as human trafficking, immigration and the need to migrate for asylees and refugees, poverty and inequity, domestic violence, treatment of prisoners and the racial disparity in our criminal justice system, and care for creation. Whenever a person of our global home is denied their God-given dignity and shared membership in our society there is control, manipulation, violence, demeaning words and acts, isolation, intimidation, exploitation and abuse of power.

Patterns exist in all our lives and reflect the fundamental direction of our lives in relationship to God and our neighbor. Do our norms, behaviors and patterns reflect God’s life and love and demand right relationship or do they diminish, harm, deny life and collude in injustice?

When we advocate for justice, for right relationship and shared membership, can we help others to see the pattern and the intersection of the issues? As Catholic Sisters, we are pro-birth and pro-life about the seamless garment of life. We need to give voice and visibility to people who are kept victimized, living in the shadows and living in inhumane and punitive situations. Whenever possible, we need to empower and share power so victims of injustice can speak and be visible.

sunsethandsModern day slavery, whether it is labor or sex trafficking, is so profitable regardless of the economic system. All issues that victimize, marginalize, isolate, keep people vulnerable, disempower, strip dignity and keep people on crosses are sinful because of our turning away from God’s love and seeking reliance in false gods. In this Year of Mercy, we must ask for God’s help and guidance to participate in patterns of behavior and conditions that reflect our fundamental direction as individuals, as a country, and as the People of God.

Will we end modern day slavery and minimize the circumstances by working for comprehensive immigration reform and integration, restorative justice and ending the death penalty and move in the direction of an ecological conversion? Will we provide just wages and benefits so all children and families can thrive and maximize their potential? Can we minimize events and circumstances where people are treated as a product or a commodity to be sold or traded or exploited?

SC Ministry Foundation promotes the mission and ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. As a public grantmaking organization, we have partnered with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC) for over a decade. We congratulate and express our gratitude to OJPC, especially Sasha Appatova, for working with “Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell to set up a special court to address the needs of human trafficking survivors, many who were forced into prostitution. Often, these survivors are required by their traffickers to commit crimes, including prostitution, thefts and drug offenses. The special court allows survivors who have been convicted of crimes their traffickers forced them to commit to get their convictions expunged from their records.” (2015 Annual Report of OJPC) The Women Victims of Violence project of OJPC helps survivors of human trafficking with criminal records and women who were incarcerated because of crimes against their abusers. OJPC is working to increase the number of courts that provide Safe Harbor Expungements for survivors.

In this Year of Mercy, may our actions and beliefs reflect Redemption. May we pray and continue our efforts to take victims of human trafficking and all victims down from their crosses.

Sister Sally Duffy S.C. is the Executive Director of the SC Ministry Foundation and a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.

October, 2016

Pray, Love, Act

by Carol Davis, OP

Globally, there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking, with hundreds of thousands in the USA, per the International Labor Organization. Human trafficking occurs in every state and in Washington, DC. There is no single profile, no single way traffickers recruit. There is no single group being targeted; they come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, documented and undocumented. They are women, men, children.
When I think of the women I’ve had the privilege to accompany on part of their healing journey, there are some similarities. They carry shame, they desire healing, the light in their souls still shines or at least the embers are glowing. The pain is visceral and so is their courage. When they share their stories I feel sad, pained, angered, and grieved. I also feel deep gratitude for the privilege of being able to support a survivor on her journey of healing, speaking her truth, struggling to choose life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.
I remember the prayer of that amazing abolitionist, dreamer, and underground railroad leader who was born in the late 19th century. Harriet Tubman prayed: “I’m going to hold steady on You, an’ You’ve got to see me through.” I pray for the victims and survivors. I pray for myself and those who work for freedom. I pray also for the perpetrators.
It seems to me that the freedom is needed for all – the survivors and, yes, for the perpetrators. There are so many who do not remember who they are, who have lost their way, who have no idea of the holiness, the grace that is in their very soul at birth. If a person knew who they were as a son or daughter of the Divine, they could not commit such atrocities as enslaving another.
Pope Francis tells us that “Every state of life leads to holiness, always”, but only if we are open to the grace of God’s gift. “First, we must bear in mind that holiness is not something that we can procure for ourselves or obtain with our quality and our skills. Holiness is gifted to us by the Lord Jesus, when He takes us up with Him and clothes us in Himself . . .” (Vatican Radio, 9/11/14)
The gifts are at times squandered and there are those who barricade themselves against the gifts of grace. Even there, we must not lose hope. We must continue to pray for the wounded survivors of human trafficking and for the perpetrators.
There are those who have been so wounded they struggle to remember who they are. I’ve been asked by more than one survivor if God could still love her after all that she had been through, the rapes, the prostitution, the drug use and sales, the violence. I want to say to every survivor, “You are made in the image and likeness of the Divine. Yes, you are loved, you are loveable, you are holy”. I also know that my words will ring hollow if I do not live love. We know that faith without works is dead. (see James 3:14ff)
How are you being called to stretch out yourself in love for the sake of the Gospel?

Do Good.

And good will come to

you.

Harriet Tubman reminds us to hold steady to God. Pope Francis reminds us of the universal call to holiness that is pure gift from God. To what action does God’s love impel you today? Is there one thing you can do? Will it be a personal prayer for survivors? Will you take action to get a prayer for an end to human trafficking read from the pulpit in your church or diocese? Will you call your congressional representative and request that they take action? Will you take the time to peruse the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking website for more ideas?
The prophet Micah challenges us: (6:8)
You have been told oh my people what is good,
to act justly,
to love tenderly,
to walk humbly with your God.

September, 2016

Who is God for victims and survivors of human trafficking?

by Jeanne Christensen, RSM

As persons of faith, our prayer calls us to respond to the needs of the world and our response in ministry leads us back to God. We are called to integrate contemplation and action. Who is God for each of us?

Who is God for victims and survivors of human trafficking? How does their endurance of daily repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuses shape their image of God?   The trauma which trafficking survivors experience is very complex and complicated. How do we help victims understand the love of God and that they are spiritual beings worthy of being loved by God?

Ponder these questions for a few moments.

Here is what some of the exploited women served through The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City said about God:

  • God is my protector
  • God is good all of the time
  • God is REAL love…not fake love
  • God always found me when I was lost
  • God is a spirit who always loves me when nobody did
  • I used to think God was punishing me but now I know I just didn’t let him help me
  • Without God, I would be dead

Which of these descriptions of God most strikes you? Why?

Prayer handsConversation with the women also brought out that they don’t like the God-name “higher power” because it’s too abusive. They might consider “deeper power.” Their Native American transgendered person talked about the native belief that God is everywhere, takes all forms, has many names and is in all of us. The belief that God is always with them, but that they have the choice of what to do was voiced by almost everyone. The overall belief is that God is a loving God, but that God is very capable of, in their term, “kickin’ your ass”.

What do these women’s reflections about God say to you?

As so often happens, these victims and survivors amaze us and we receive more than we ever give. We have no idea or experience of the horrendous treatment they survive, so we are amazed at their courage in making the transition out.   To fully respond to our calling for ministry with them, we must simply walk with them until we understand. It is a slow and arduous journey – let us begin!

And, let us pray:

Compassionate, tender God, you desire that all might have fullness of life and you invite us to care for all persons you have created.  God, we know you are present and we are in awe of your grace which strengthens us as we hear the call to confront the tragic reality of human trafficking. May we respond as You would. AMEN.

Source: Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM (Justice Advocate – Human Trafficking, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, North Kansas City, MO) and the women of The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City, Missouri USA. To learn more, visit http://www.thejusticeprojectkc.org.

August, 2016

Collaboration: Ending Human Trafficking by Working Together

by Anne Victory, HM

Peace&Justice_final design_xlarge
Artist: Frankie Dutil, CSJ. Used with permission, Region VII Justice Promoters.

Work on the issue of human trafficking can be taxing, even overwhelming at times for so many reasons. The complexity of the crime, the extent to which it pervades our society, the ways in which we are all unknowingly complicit, the myriad faces of victims across the world and within our own neighborhoods all contribute to a sense of “It’s just too big! There’s no way that I can make a difference.” Often we’re left feeling sad and powerless in the face of such a monstrous issue that damages millions of lives each year for the sake of others’ economic gain.

As I examine what seems to make the difference for organizations and individuals who persevere in their efforts to engage with this issue, I find that one of the key factors for success is one word—collaboration. Collaboration these days seems “trendy,” but effectively collaborating is really a process, a journey, and certainly a challenge.

I have come to know that true collaboration on this issue requires a number of elements. The first is a selfless and generous heart. Such a stance demands recognition that no one has all of the resources, knowledge and skills to address such a complex crime alone, so I and others need to share what we each can bring to the table willing to share and to have our views influenced by the gifts of others.

The focus of collaboration needs to be on the mission: what are we trying to accomplish? Agreeing on a common mission requires clarity of purpose and challenging of assumptions for the sake of those we are serving. It’s not my agenda or that of my organization that counts—it is our shared agenda that brings about the best results for the sake of those victimized by human trafficking. A broad vision of ending human trafficking is ambitious, but it is certainly essential to keep us focused on a world free of modern-day slavery.

I have also learned that collaboration takes time, is often a bit “messy,” and is always full of energy. Even when I might prefer to “just get it done,” the results of any project are so much more effective if I allow and even encourage the spirited exchange of ideas and the tangents that seem on the surface to be time-wasters. In the end, serving victims with compassion, preventing the crime, reducing the demand, and addressing the root causes of vulnerability can only be accomplished through creative approaches and ideas offered by generous sharing for the sake of the whole, the mission. These energetic conversations often result in new possibilities that would not have been considered without the “chaos.”

Lastly, effective collaboration calls for networking with sometimes “uncommon” partners, inviting them to bring their unique gifts and resources to the table for the sake of the whole. As St. Paul reminds us, “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Those whom we may never have considered as partners may be just the ones whose gifts are needed to address some aspect of this crime: making a connection with a community business or agency whose resources have the potential to carry the mission to a new level, weaving that safety net for victims, expanding awareness within the community, beginning to change systems to lessen factors that leave people so vulnerable to this abuse.

So collaboration is certainly not for the faint of heart! It’s well worth it, though, to begin to make a real difference in the quest to create a slave-free world. Let’s keep learning, sharing, creating, risking, and encouraging one another on this journey!

July, 2016

Contemplative Sustainability

by Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC

dreamstime_xs_8609504For those of us involved in the multiple facets of fighting human trafficking, it has a price. We hear painful stories while growing in sensitivity and compassion for the suffering of victims. Listening to the horrendous stories, up against systemic injustice and organized crime, and fighting for benefits for survivors demands a commitment and a strong personal support system. How can we continue without compassion fatigue, burnout or cynicism? How can we be attentive to trauma stewardship and be mindful of the resources that sustain us in the work?

By listening to women religious and lay people working closely with survivors, I have heard resilience and it sparked curiosity as to how they are sustained in such an intense work over long periods of time.

From Salvation Army workers to women religious, I heard repeatedly that meditation, daily times for gentle stillness, strengthened them to contend with the toll that these traumatic stories take on those who live and work with them. Faith was an anchor in dealing with the ugly realities of those involved in the trafficking of persons.

Judith Sheridan SMSM, who lives in community with survivors, shared that her daily contemplative prayer is her source of resilience and strength. This time of stillness has enabled her to let go when it comes to allowing survivors to learn from their mistakes. “I can’t be responsible for each one.” As Judith surrenders this valid concern in prayer, she experiences peace as she waits in stillness. “If you stay still enough, long enough, you’ll get the grace.” Her daily practice is her what has been described as trauma stewardship. Laura Lipsky writes, “The essence of the trauma stewardship approach is to cultivate the quality of being present, both to the events of our lives and for others and our planet.”

Sister Judith Sheridan SMSM, giving a presentation on human trafficking.
Sister Judith Sheridan SMSM, giving a presentation on human trafficking.

Many of the women involved in this issue reported that immersion in nature, through gardening, hiking, biking, going to the beach, or walking helped sustain them. Many found music, exercise, and movies kept them in balance. Self-care was essential for survival for the long haul. Yoga has taught some active in the fight against human trafficking how to let go and quieted the  mind.

Almost everyone found that staying connected with friends, being supported in a loving community, and other social support systems nourished and encouraged them. Observing women recover, heal and move on with meaningful lives gives them the energy to continue. One woman religious reported that hearing a survivor encourage another, “You can do it!” makes her day.

The images of resilience that these women shared included floating in the water, a tree that grows beyond all attempts to kill it, being held in the palm of someone’s hand, a flowing stream, an evergreen tree with strong roots in a drought, a Plover bird at the short walking at the edge of the waves, the fruits growing in our garden.

We know and deeply believe in the interconnectedness of all things – this is true of our beautiful cosmos but as well true of the dark side. Human trafficking is one of many injustices but that one issue is also connected in a web of forces. How do we continue fighting such a powerful lucrative industry with our limited energy and resources? William Blake teaches us, “If one is to do good, it must be done in the minute particulars.” And so we fight human trafficking with each march, with each tender loving relationship with the victims, with each act of advocacy, and with each refusal to feed the consumer monster that drives slave labor supply chains. We move one step at a time, done mindfully, and in the belief that it will reverberate in the web of connected issues.   John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything else in the Universe.” This is why we work with coalitions, regional human trafficking task forces and the USCSAHT conscious of the power of each effort maximized when executed by groups.

Contemplative practices that help build resilience could include:

  1. To step back from the situation and Breathe!
    “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” Etty Hillesum
  1. A Daily Review with a positive focus: What did I do well today? How can I do more of that tomorrow? From Richard G. Tedeschi, Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis
  1. Breaking out of a rut by creating new habits! Brain plasticity taught us that “Neurons that fire together wire together!” Neuroscientist, Donald Hebb encourages us to “Cultivate positive emotions to wire in new patterns” like cultivating gratitude, a daily walk, gratitude journal, don’t feed the darkness with negative thoughts.
    In reading on this topic I have found a Resiliency Skill Set, which includes: faith, prayer, gratitude, positive thinking, forgiveness, humor, friendships, flexibility, exercise, being in nature and engaged in some form of beauty.

For our reflection, I share a lengthy quote from Krista Tippett in her recent book, Becoming Wise An inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, “Resilience is a successor to mere progress, a companion to sustainability. It acknowledges from the outset that things will go wrong. All of our solutions will eventually outlive their usefulness. We will make messes, and disruption we do not cause or predict will land on us. This is the drama of being alive. To nurture a resilient human being, or a resilient city, is to build in an expectation of adversity, a capacity for inevitable vulnerability. As a word and as a strategy, resilience honors the unromantic reality of who we are and how we are, and so becomes a refreshingly practical compass for the systems and societies we can craft. It’s a shift from wish-based optimism to reality-based hope. It is akin to meaningful, sustained happiness – not dependent on a state of perfection or permanent satisfaction, not an emotional response to circumstances of the moment, but a way of being that can meet the range of emotions and experiences, light and dark, that add up to a life. Resilience is at once proactive, pragmatic, and humble. It knows it needs others. It doesn’t overcome failure so much as transmute it, integrating it into the reality that evolves.” (Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, Penguin Press NY 2015, p. 251-253)

Our resilience rooted in contemplative living sustains us in hope for the long haul. As one women religious observed, we are a “great fit” for this work because we have nursed, nurtured, educated, people from all walks of life and remained close to human suffering over the years and we nurtured hope all the way.

I recommend Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Verrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco 2009.

 Sister Judith Sherian SMSM (left) with Rev. Marge Swaker, being honored by the Soroptimists for their work to help others.
Sister Judith Sherian SMSM (left) with Rev. Marge Swaker, being honored by the Soroptimists for their work to help others.

June, 2016

Protecting Children is a Universal Mandate

by Sister Michele Morek, OSU

Child TraffickingThe care for children is literally in our DNA. The physical features/characteristics of a baby (or a kitten, or a puppy), like a proportionally large head, large eyes, or a toddling gait, are designed to turn on “care-giving” behavior in us and in many other mammals. In some groups of social animals like wolves or great apes, the appearance of a new baby in the group is the occasion for great interest and excitement. This is not surprising…probably the (biologically) most important thing that a generation does is to raise the next generation.

That is just one reason that it’s so hard for us to understand the abuse of children. It goes against our very nature to harm a child. What would it take to make someone use a child as an instrument of war (a child soldier or suicide bomber) or to dishearten the enemy by killing the children of that enemy? What would make someone sell their three-year old child to a sex trade trafficker, or their six-year old son to a trafficker in child labor? How can parents sell their small sons for a lifetime of slavery on a shrimp boat off the coast of Thailand, or send their daughters to work amid toxic chemicals and heavy metals in artisanal gold mines?

If it is human to care for children, then the factors that cause us to neglect this duty must be the factors that make us less human—grinding poverty, inequality, ignorance, fear, or even greed and hate. As humans, which of those factors can we do something about?

All the major religions enjoin their followers to care for children. The Quran contains reminders to regard children with integrity, nourish them with love, protect them by all means, and to treat orphans kindly and equitably. The injunction “You shall not kill your children due to fear of poverty; killing them is a grave offense” (Q 17:31) is about as pointed as it can get.

Jewish wisdom holds that our children don’t belong to us, they are a loan and a gift from God: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord.” (Ps 127: 3-5)

Christians are reminded not to overlook or neglect children, because Jesus said “Whoever receives a little child in my name receives me.” (Mark 9:37)

There are two international days for children in June:

  • June 4 is the International Day of Innocent Child Victims of Aggression
  • June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labor

How will you celebrate those days? How could you work against the factors that cause child abuse and neglect? Make yourself knowledgeable about child abuse and neglect in your area.

Prayer for Children

God of love,
hear the cries of children around the world.
Hear the mourning, screams, silent voices of fear and pain.
How many tears and how much more blood
will bring us a sense that we are all your children,
no matter what race, nationality, religion, class and gender?

God of mercy,
forgive our sins of selfishness and insecurity
that make us seek self-protection
and power over others first.
Grant us courage today
to listen to your call of protecting, nurturing, and loving
the most vulnerable ones among us
so that we may be a messenger of your peace in the world.

—Rev. Hikari Kokai Chang
Regional Missionary, Wesley Foundation in Japan

May, 2016

The FRANCIS Factor in Abating Human Trafficking

by Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA – La Crosse Task Force to Eradicate Modern Slavery

Jean Schafer, SDS, and Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, share at a Vatican anti-trafficking seminar.
Jean Schafer, SDS, and Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, share at a Vatican anti-trafficking seminar.

This is a compendium of references about the efforts of Pope Francis to end modern slavery.

Commentators have attributed the term “the Francis Factor” to our current pope in describing his leadership in a world of transmigration, diversity, and violence. His approach encourages dialogical processes and a global response. Pope Francis frequently is hailed as prophetic, scientific, activist, and pastoral. However we wish to view it, we cannot doubt that he has broken the papal mold of leadership. Almost immediately after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis wrote this little note to the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Marcelo,

I think it would be good to examine human trafficking and modern slavery.

Organ trafficking could be examined in connection with human trafficking.

Many thanks,

-Francis[i]

That’s how it all started at the Vatican. Under the auspices of the Pontifical Academies of Science and the Social Sciences, the Holy See launched a multi-pronged attack on human trafficking never undertaken by church leadership prior to this time. This Pope has dedicated more attention to the discussion of human trafficking than any other Pope or world religious leader before him.[ii] One year later he would again take up the specific theme of organ trafficking in Brazil[iii] and again make a strong reference to it in his World Day of Peace Message in 2015.[iv]

Naming the problem[v]

With a penchant for incisive vocabulary Pope Francis names the reality of human trafficking in the world. Among various major addresses and writings he called it . . .

  • “a real scourge . . . throughout the world”[vi]
  • “a hidden form of exploitation”[vii]
  • “common coin.”[viii]
  • “an infamous network of crime”[ix]
  • “a social scourge . . . a true form of slavery”; “a grave violation of the human rights of those victimized and an offense against their dignity, as well as a defeat for the worldwide community. . . shameful” . . . increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence”[x]
  • “predatory and harmful . . .the frequently overlooked tragedy of migrants . . .”[xi]
  • “[merchandizing] in human flesh” [xii]
  • “a plague on the body of contemporary humanity; scandalous and politically incorrect; a regression of humanity”[xiii]
  • “a crime against humanity . . . a disgrace”[xiv]
  • “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ[xv]
  • “a vile activity, a disgrace to our societies that claim to be civilized!”[xvi]
  • “subversion of values” [xvii]
  • “means to an end. . . the rejection of another person’s humanity. . . the scourge of the exploitation of human persons”[xviii]
  • “another kind of war”[xix]

What to do about it

Pope Francis not only names the issue, he gives us specific and particular ways that we can do something about it either personally, corporately, and/or politically. For example:

  • I ask my brothers and sisters in the faith and all men and women of good will for a decisive choice to combat the trafficking in persons in which ‘slave labor’ exists.[xx]
  • Exploiters and clients at all levels should make a serious examination of conscience both in the first person and before God! [xxi]
  • What is called for, then, is a shared sense of responsibility and firmer political will to gain victory on this front. Responsibility is required towards those who have fallen victim to trafficking in order to protect their rights, to guarantee their safety and that of their families, and to prevent the corrupt and criminals from escaping justice and having the last word over the lives of others. Suitable legislative intervention in the countries of origin, transit and arrival, which will also facilitate orderly migration, can diminish this grave problem.[xxii]
  • Fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed . . . marked by reciprocity, forgiveness, and complete self-giving . . .[xxiii]
  • . . . we need to make a good examination of conscience: how many times have we permitted a human being to be seen as an object, to be put on show in order to sell a product or to satisfy an immoral desire? The human person ought never to be sold or bought as if he or she were a commodity. Whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of injustice.[xxiv]
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.[xxv]
  • The United Nations really needs to take a very strong position on climate change with a particular focus on the trafficking of human beings as a problem that has been created by climate change. . . We cannot separate man from everything else. There is a relationship which has a huge impact, both on the person in the way they treat the environment and the rebound effect against man when the environment is mistreated.[xxvi]
  • . . . our communities of faith are called to reject, without exception, any systematic deprivation of individual freedom for the purposes of personal or commercial exploitation[xxvii]
  • Globalize fraternity, not slavery or indifference . . . There is also need for a threefold commitment on the institutional level: to prevention, to victim protection and to the legal prosecution of perpetrators. I invite everyone, in accordance with his or her specific role and responsibilities, to practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement.[xxviii]
  • I urgently appeal to all men and women of good will, and all those near or far, including the highest levels of civil institutions, who witness the scourge of contemporary slavery, not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity. Instead, may we have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ, revealed in the faces of those countless persons whom he calls “the least of these my brethren”[xxix] (Mt 25:40, 45). (12/8/14)
  • Society is called to form new legislation that penalizes traffickers and help rehabilitate victims.[xxx]
  • These realities serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the international level.[xxxi]
  • . . . we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. . . Today the 193 states of the United Nations have a new moral imperative to combat human trafficking, a true crime against humanity. Collaboration between bishops and the civil authorities, each in accordance with his own mission and character and with the aim of discovering best practice for the fulfilment of this delicate task, is a decisive step to ensuring that the will of governments reaches the victims in a direct, immediate, constant, effective and concrete way.[xxxii]
  • . . . strengthen the bonds of cooperation and communication which are essential to ending the suffering of the many men and women and children who today are enslaved and sold as if they were a mere commodity . . . [xxxiii]

Major Efforts led by Pope Francis

Pope Francis began his anti-human trafficking efforts by calling three international conferences to study the issue and make recommendations. The first preparatory workshop was held in November 2013 with the purpose to examine the status quo and develop an agenda to fight the problem. Early in 2014 a Vatican conference was designed for law enforcement agencies, and a third in July 2015[xxxiv] with mayors from around the world. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Science, hosted the first of three international gatherings on trafficking and the marginalized. He said the pope’s focus on the issue is driven by a deep desire to be close to those who suffer, recognizing that Christ himself can be found in their wounds. “He really has always had this ‘nose for’ the people of the Beatitudes, those who are poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, and so on . . . this is his instinct.”[xxxv]

The Global Freedom Network convened on March 17, 2014 involved seven religious leaders (Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Orthodox) commonly willing to eliminate the underlying networks of human trafficking and related endemic issues. In collaboration with the heads of the Muslim faith, the Anglican Church, and the founder of the Walk Free Foundation, a resolution was proclaimed to end modern slavery by 2020. Nothing with such specific focus had ever been undertaken by any other pope or religious group. It outlined six necessary steps to accomplish the goal.

  1. Awareness: Mobilizing faith communities
  2. Ethical purchasing: Supply-chain proofing
  3. Services/facilities for victims and survivors of forced labor, prostitution and organ trafficking
  4. Lobbying: Law reforms and enforcement
  5. Prevention: Education and awareness
  6. Funding: private donors along with national and international organizations

Not only does Pope Francis speak about human trafficking in many venues, he has also written authoritatively about it in both of his encyclicals — the 2013 Evangelii Gaudium ¶211[xxxvi] and in the 2015 Laudato si ¶91, 92[xxxvii]. He continues to keep this grave evil and crime on the agenda of the nations of the world. As recently as April 7, 2016, Cardinal Vincent Nicols on the pope’s behalf addressed the special conference on combatting human trafficking and modern slavery at the United Nations in New York.[xxxviii]

Promoting continuity in prayer and awareness by faith communities around the world, Pope Francis endorsed an International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking by several Vatican congregations and global leaders of men and women religious on February 3, 2015[xxxix] – another example of Pope Francis’s empowerment of others.

Now, what do we do? Some suggested radical acts to end modern slavery

Some of these ideas are related to developing communities of trust. They are adapted here with reference to human slavery prevention and support for trafficked survivors.

  • Befriend a survivor who needs support.
  • Volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club and thereby provide friendship to youth who may at risk.
  • Get to know a registered sex offender in your neighborhood.
  • Connect with a group of workers for farmers who grow your food and visit them. Ask what they get paid.
  • Track to its source one item of food you eat regularly. Each time you eat that food, pray for those who helped make it possible to come to your table.
  • Become a pen pal with someone in prison.
  • Participate in a worship service where you will be a minority.
  • Confess something you have done wrong to someone and ask them to pray for you.
  • Share the costs of your health care through a network to assist human trafficking survivors.
  • Start conversations in your community with whom you need to deepen trust – law enforcement, troubled teens, a different political party, a different faith tradition.

Pope Francis knows that ultimately converting hearts and minds is what will determine whether people of all faiths, economists, businesses, police and politicians take action. Each of us needs to take action in some way.

[i] Copy of original chirograph at http://www.endslavery.va/content/endslavery/en/who.html See the sidebar.

[ii] Ashley Feasley. “Pope Francis and Human Trafficking”. Human Trafficking Search: The Global Resource & Database. (September 1, 2015) http://humantraffickingsearch.net/wp/pope-francis-and-human-trafficking/

[iii] Message on the occasion of the annual Lenten “Fraternity Campaign” in Brazil with the theme of “Fraternity and human trafficking,” March 5, 2014. http://www.wucwo.org/sites/default/files/pictures/07032014%20NC%20-%20THE%20POPE%20URGES%20ACTION%20AGAINST%20HUMAN%20TRAFFICKING.pdf

[iv] World Day of Peace Message 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html#_ftn4

[v] See http://www.globalfreedomnetwork.org/catholic-resources/ which lists and describes the various Catholic resources about slavery and in particular the papal documents regarding slavery.

[vi] General Audience. St. Peter’s Square. June 12, 2013; Zenit Staff. (April 8, 2016) To conference at U.N. in New York Ending Human Trafficking by 2030: The Role of Global Partnerships in Eradicating Modern Slavery. April 7, 2016. https://zenit.org/articles/pope-presses-for-greater-cooperation-to-end-human-trafficking/

[vii] General Audience. St. Peter’s Square. June 12, 2013 http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130612_udienza-generale.html

[viii] World Day of Migrants and Refugees. August 5, 2013. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20130805_world-migrants-day.html

[ix] Evangelii Gaudium No. 211. November 24, 2013. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

[x] To New Ambassadors Accredited to the Holy See. Clementine Hall. December 12, 2013. The entire address is devoted to this topic. https://mafrsouthernafrica.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/pope-francis-human-trafficking.pdf.

[xi] World Day of Peace. January 1, 2014. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20131208_messaggio-xlvii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2014.html

[xii] Angelus. January 19, 2014. http://www.news.va/en/news/angelus-19-january-2014

[xiii] General Audience. April 18, 2015. http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-human-trafficking-is-a-plague-on-huma

[xiv] Conference held at the Vatican for law enforcement, church workers and charity representatives on April 10, 2014; To New Ambassadors Accredited to the Holy See. Clementine Hall. December 12, 2013; To the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, January 13, 2014; To Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, October 23, 2014: L’Osservatore Romano, 24 October 2014, p. 4; Declaration on International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, December 2, 2014; UN conference in New York on April 7, 2016.

[xv] Conference for Law Enforcement Officers and religious leaders. April 2014. https://www.yahoo.com/news/pope-meets-ex-sex-slaves-denounces-trafficking-135936521.html?ref=gs

[xvi] To the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. May 24, 2013. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10241

[xvii] To the Participants in the World Meeting Of Popular Movements. October 28, 2014.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/october/documents/papa-francesco_20141028_incontro-mondiale-movimenti-popolari.html

[xviii] World Day of Peace Message. January 1, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html

[xix] To the United Nations General Assembly. September 25, 2015. http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/schedule/address-to-united-nations-general-assembly/

[xx] General Audience, St. Peter’s Square. May 1, 2013. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130501_udienza-generale.html

[xxi] To the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. May 24, 2013. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10241

[xxii] To the New Ambassadors Accredited to the Holy See on the Occasion Of The Presentation of the Letters of

Credence. Clementine Hall. December 12, 2013. https://mafrsouthernafrica.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/pope-francis-human-trafficking.pdf

[xxiii] World Day of Peace Message. January 1, 2014. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20131208_messaggio-xlvii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2014.html

[xxiv] Message on the occasion of the annual Lenten “Fraternity Campaign” in Brazil with the theme of “Fraternity and human trafficking,” March 5, 2014. . http://www.wucwo.org/sites/default/files/pictures/07032014%20NC%20-%20THE%20POPE%20URGES%20ACTION%20AGAINST%20HUMAN%20TRAFFICKING.pdf

[xxv] Global Freedom Network 2014. http://www.globalfreedomnetwork.org/

[xxvi] Kirchgaessner, Stephanie in Vatican City and staff. “Pope laments ‘meaningless lives’” in tying human trafficking to climate change.” THE GUARDIAN. July 21, 2015. Remarks by Pope Francis following conference with mayors. Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of Cities. July 16, 2015 in Rome.

[xxvii] Declaration on International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Dec. 2, 2014. http://ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/pope-s-quotes-end-modern-slavery

[xxviii] World Day of Peace Message ¶5. January 1, 2015.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html

[xxix] Ibid. ¶6

[xxx] To Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. April 18, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/april/documents/papa-francesco_20150418_plenaria-scienze-sociali.html

[xxxi] To the United Nations General Assembly. September 25, 2015. http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/schedule/address-to-united-nations-general-assembly/

[xxxii] Radio message to Santa Marta Group at San Lorenzo del Escorial in Spain on October 30, 2015. http://www.endslavery.va/content/endslavery/en/getinvolved/partners/santa_marta_group.pdf

[xxxiii] To conference at the U.N. in New York on April 7, 2016. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/04/08/pope_francis_encourages_anti-trafficking_conference/1221250

[xxxiv] See #EndSlavery http://www.endslavery.va/content/endslavery/en/who.html that describes all the ways in which the pontifical academies of science and social sciences have been involved. #EndSlavery is an initiative of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Sciences for their work to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking, a task Pope Francis assigned to them in 2013.

[xxxv] CNN, Staff and other sources. “Pope Francis: ‘A Crime against Humanity’”. AMERICA. April 28-May 5, 2014 Issue. http://americamagazine.org/issue/pope-francis-%E2%80%98-crime-against-humanity%E2%80%99

[xxxvi] Evangelium Gaudium 211: I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9).   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! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity.

[xxxvii] LAUDATO SI 91, 92: A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted . (May 24, 2015) http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

[xxxviii] Independent Catholic News. Address of Cardinal Vincent Nichols to UN on Human Trafficking. http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=29811

[xxxix] Joshua McElwee. Vatican, religious orders launch international day against trafficking. Feb. 3, 2015

http://ncronline.org/news/global/vatican-religious-orders-launch-international-day-against-trafficking

April, 2016

Can environmentalists end human trafficking?

by Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM

Finally, it’s April. In northern Indiana, where I live, April’s arrival means that the grey, cold, snowy days of winter give way to the tender greens of spring, daffodils and flowering trees. People are outside, walking and biking again, and tilling the soil for their gardens. Creation is coming back to life! On April 22 we celebrate the grandeur, beauty and fragility of our planet on Earth Day, and re-commit ourselves to reverencing and preserving what Pope Francis calls “our common home.”

In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Sí, Pope Francis challenged us all to recognize that care for our Earth and care for people who are poor and vulnerable are not separate concerns. They are interconnected, inter-related, in what he calls an “integral ecology.” When we think about the elegance of creation and human trafficking, a horrific abuse of human dignity and human rights, where do we see that interconnection?

Kevin Bales, co-founder of the organization, Free the Slaves, makes this connection convincingly in his latest book entitled “Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide and the Secret to Saving the World.” As Bales traveled the world documenting and working to end human trafficking, he noticed that where slavery existed, so did “massive, unchecked environmental destruction.”1.

We’ve known for a long time that environmental change and human trafficking/slavery are linked. Whether it’s the slow desertification of sub-Saharan Africa or the devastating force of a southeast Asian tsunami, both cause people to migrate away from their homelands, and people on the move are vulnerable to traffickers. Once captured, they may be forced into mining gold or coltan, cutting down forests or working on brutally demanding shrimping/fishing boats for months or years at a time.

But Bales goes beyond pointing out the mutually reinforcing evils of slavery and ecocide. He posits that “slavery is at the root of much of the natural world’s destruction.”2. How can that be, given that there are an estimated 35 million slaves, a horrific number, but still a small fraction of our global population?

Bales argues: “Slaveholders are criminals, operating firmly outside of any law or regulation. When they mine gold they saturate thousands of acres with toxic mercury. When they cut timber, they clear-cut and burn…leaving behind a dead ecosystem. Laws and treaties may control law-abiding individuals, corporations, and governments, but not the criminal slaveholders who flout the gravest of laws.”

He continues, “When it comes to global warming, these slaveholders outpace all but the very biggest polluters. Adding together their slave-based deforestation and other CO2-producing crimes leads to a sobering conclusion. If slavery were an American state it would have the population of California and the economic output of the District of Columbia, but it would be the world’s third largest producer of CO2, after China and the United States. It’s no wonder that we struggle and often fail to stop climate change and reduce the atmospheric carbon count. Slavery, one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas producers, is hidden from us. Environmentalists are right to call for laws and treaties that will apply to the community of nations, but that is not enough. We also have to understand that slavers–who don’t adhere to those laws and treaties–are a leading cause of the natural world’s destruction. And to stop them…we need to end slavery.”3.

In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis reminds us that “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”4. It seems that Bales and Pope Francis are of the same mind. Modern day slavery and environmental destruction are both increasing. We need to be aware of the connections between these sins against humanity and creation, and work to root them out. To save our planet, we have to end human trafficking. To end human trafficking, we must reverence and protect Earth, our common home.

I close with some recommendations for reading and reflection. For every environmentalist, please consider reading “Blood and Earth” by Kevin Bales. For everyone who works to end human trafficking, ponder the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Sí. (You can find it online at https://laudatosi.com/watch)

And for every person who has ever experienced the indignity, despair and unspeakable abuse of human trafficking/modern-day slavery, I wish you the rebirth of April, the new life of Resurrection.

  1. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World by Kevin Bales. Random House:      New York, 2016. Quote from the inside book jacket.
  2. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World, p. 9.
  3. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World, p. 9-10.
  4. On Care for Our Common Home – Laudato Sí. Chapter 1, #48.

March, 2016

A Month in Which to Advocate for Women and Girls

by Sister Jean Schafer, SDS

“She walks for hours to fetch water and toils in drought-prone fields to feed her family. She left her country with the promise of a good job only to find herself forced into sex work. She picks up the pieces after a cyclone destroys her makeshift home and small business. She is the provider, farmer, teacher, doctor, entrepreneur, minister, leader, mother — contributing every day to her household, society and the economy.”

labor trafficking

“Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population — and they are on the front lines — often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, and global economic crises.”

“Despite great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over many years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery. They are refused access to education and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth remain needlessly high. Women’s empowerment and gender equality remain a struggle.”

March is recognized as International Women’s Month and, in the U.S., as Women’s History Month. March 8th is commemorated globally as International Women’s Day.

These milestones evolved as voices of exploited women and their advocates called out for justice. On March 8, 1857, women from the clothing and textile factories in New York City staged a protest to expose poor working conditions and low wages. In 1911, over 140 women lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York. In 1979, the UN General Assembly ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Called the international bill of rights for women, CEDAW has been ratified by 187 out of 194 member states. The United States is one of only seven countries in the world that has not yet ratified CEDAW.

Now millions around the globe demonstrate and celebrate on March 8th and throughout the month, demanding rights for women and girls everywhere. In 2014 the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. One year later in 2015, the WEF re-estimated that the gender gap would not close entirely until 2133. According to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2015, the U.S. ranks 28th,with a score of 0.740, along with Cuba, Canada, and Lithuania. The highest possible score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible score is 0 (inequality). Iceland, ranks first, with a score of 0.881.

Those who are active in the anti human trafficking movement also point to the millions of women and girls who have no voice and no visibility due to their victimization at the hands of unscrupulous traffickers and those benefiting from their labor and sexual exploitation. Modern day slaves and their emancipators still loudly repeat those poignant words, quoted from the Black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, by Maya Angelou in the introduction to her autobiography:

“I know why the caged bird sings.
Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore.
It beats its bars and would be free.
It’s not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that it sends from its heart’s deep core,
a plea that upward to heaven it flings.
I know why the caged bird sings.”  

The United Nations 2016 theme for March 8th, International Women’s Day is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality’. It is an occasion to reflect on how to build momentum for the effective implementation of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will push for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

SDG Projections: Massive scale projections and peoples’ voices to celebrate UN70 and visually depict the 17 Global Goals Organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, the Office of the Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, the Global Poverty Project and other partners General Assembly 69th session: High-level Forum on a Culture of Peace Opening Statements by the Acting President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, followed by panel discussions
SDG Projections: Massive scale projections and peoples’ voices to celebrate UN70 and visually depict the 17 Global Goals
Organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, the Office of the Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, the Global Poverty Project and other partners
General Assembly 69th session: High-level Forum on a Culture of Peace
Opening Statements by the Acting President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, followed by panel discussions

Obviously there remains much to do! To raise up the economic status of women and girls and to assure their rights requires they have access to quality education and job training. In addition, women mentors provide essential support and encouragement to assure women’s success and lessen their risk of failure.

The U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking calls on its members, partners, and all who share in the struggle to eradicate human trafficking to help make that difference by donating scholarship money for survivors of human trafficking, who believe they can make it, if given a chance and a supportive hand. If you would like to help, you can find more information at: Take Action

We can take heart and gain courage to continue our efforts on behalf of women and girls from the inspiration of Dorothy Day, who said, “People say, ‘What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.”  

 References: 

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-womens-day

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/women-and-the-sdgs

http://archive.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/dunbar.html#sympathy

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/rankings/

February, 2016

International Day of Prayer invites reflection and action on Trafficking of Children

by Sister Margaret Nacke, CSJ (Founder of the Bakhita Initiative)

February 8 was chosen as the International Day of Prayer and Reflection Against Human Trafficking in order to coincide with the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized on October 1, 2000.

St. Josephine Bakhita, kidnapped into slavery from Sudan at age 7, was  sold in the markets of Obeid and Khatoum.  Bakhita, which means “fortunate one”, was the name given to her by a captor after trauma caused her to forget her name.  The word fortunate seems to have no relationship to the life of a slave, but the fact that Christ came into her life made Bakhita fortunate far beyond what a captor could have realized.  At her canonization, Pope John Paul II said: “ In Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.”  No wonder Bakhita is considered the patroness of kidnapped and trafficked children.  Her life is a witness to the humiliations and cruelty of slavery, of deprivation of family and the joys of youth. Overcoming all to find Christ in her life is reason for the hope that eventually was hers.

Child Labor TraffickingWhen one looks into the eyes of a child, there is hope and excitement. Each of us has the power to encourage and affirm these childhood gifts. The sad fact is that the happiness and joy of children can be extinguished by adults for the sake of greed or comfort.  Children may be too much of a bother for adults to be attentive to them or, on the other hand, they may be useful for what they can generate. In all parts of the world, including the United States, the victimization of children and youth is not a rarity. Worldwide  over 40 million children  each year are subjected to abuse, some falling into the net of traffickers.  As slave traders in the 18th century found, children are attractive assets on the auction block.Today, the internet, the auction block of the 21st century, is ideal for predators to make global selections of their prey….for sex, for all kinds of labor, to become soldiers, for countless ways in which childhood is suppressed and invalidated.

We might ask ourselves how attentive we are to children…

  • Do I show recognition of a child by affirming her/him?
  • Do I care enough to engage in conversation however limited that might be?
  • Do I thank a child for participating in a program, or as a server at Mass?
  • Have I taken time to educate myself to the condition of children around the world?
  • Does that knowledge move me to action?
  • St. Josephine Bakhita, move us to action to protect children – in our neighborhood, town or city, in this country or beyond our borders.

Collect (from the Common of Virgins – Feb. 8)

God, who led St. Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery

to the dignity of being your daughter and bride of Christ

grant, we pray, that by her example

we may show constant love for the Lord, Jesus Crucified,

remaining steadfast in charity

and prompt to show compassion,

through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

 

Educational Module on Human Trafficking and Children:  Click Here

For more information on the Bakhita Initiative:  Click Here

January, 2016

Human Trafficking is All Around Us

by Sister Maryann Mueller, CSSF

In this month of January, designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, our Sunday scripture readings are replete with references to human beings as the beloved of God. (Lk. 3:22) God rejoices in each of us. (Is. 62:5) Jeremiah speaks of how God knew each of us in the womb (Jer. 1) while St. Paul reminds us that each human being has a mission in life that is only theirs to do. (1 Cor. 12) And yet in every city, town and neighborhood, these same human beings, each one made in the image and likeness of God, are forced, coerced or defrauded into performing labor or services from which we benefit.

Human trafficking victims are all around us. We encounter these modern day slaves daily and may even contribute to their slavery, at times without realizing it. Human trafficking in the restaurant business has been investigated in multiple states. The next time you eat in your favorite restaurant, consider whether victims of trafficking provide you with the food you enjoy. Do trafficked children or adults work in the agricultural fields that provide you with the vegetables and fruit you enjoy?
You fuel human trafficking when you purchase electronic devices made with minerals mined at gunpoint by slave children working in dangerous mines. The next time you purchase shoes or clothing or consume coffee, chocolate, or sugar, consider that human slaves may have been involved in the supply chain designed to make the product available for purchase and consumption.

Pope Francis reminds us that “It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act.” (Caritas in Veritate, 66) In 2012, California enacted the Supply Chain Transparency Act which requires businesses that earn more than $100 million in annual gross receipts to disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains. Attempts to pass this law nationwide have so far failed in Congress. One way we may act upon our belief that each child, woman and man is made in the image of God is to put pressure on our legislators to support legislation that will curtail human trafficking. Opportunities for contacting your legislators on pending legislation on human trafficking, which may take two minutes of your time, may be accessed under the “Take Action” link on this website.

To view our January 2016 Mobilizing Kit: Click Here