Today is the feast day of St. Jospehine Bakhita, a Sudanese woman who was sold into slavery and suffered so much she forgot her name. She was given the name Bakhita by her kidnappers - it means ‘fortunate’. She found her freedom while working for the Italian Consul and she was left in the care of Canossian Sisters.
Today is the second year the Catholic Church in England and Wales has marked the feast as a day of prayer for victims of trafficking, and this year the Church in the United States also joins in praying for those who are working with or those who are victims of this crime.
For people of my generation slavery was something we learned about in history lessons as we heard about Wiberforce’s campaign to end slavery. It was successful … Wasn’t it? Today it is thought that Human Trafficking is the second most profitable worldwide enterprise after the illegal arms trade.
We may hear a lot about young women and girls who have been trafficked to work in prostitution, which is awful - but it is the tip of the iceberg. In Britain the police have ‘rescued’ women, men and children who have been brought here to act as very cheap labour on farms, in factories, private houses, hotels as well as those who suffer sexual exploitation.
In December I attended the ECAT (European Communities Against Trafficking) conference in London and I was deeply moved by the words of a worker from Caritas in Lithuani: “For as long as there is a demand for cheap clothes/food/building etc there will be victims of human trafficking.” It was so obvious when I heard it and yet it was something I rarely think about … what does where I spend my money support? Through my ministry with Rahab I have heard police have this conversation with the clients of the women I meet. To most of these men it seems the woman has chosen her situation; the possibility that a woman may have been trafficked, that the money they spend might supporting an illegal gang to traffick and exploit more people doesn’t occur to them, and when they hear this they are concerned for welfare of the woman they have visited.
Why a day of prayer? Human trafficking flourishes because it happens in dark, hidden places. It’s not obvious, a victim of it looks just like you. Part of the hope of this day is that by raising awareness of causes, as well as the struggle of the victims, we can start to make a change. As I pray about this I want to do something; for others praying is about raising their own awareness and they can share their reflections with others. Victims and gang leaders are hidden in plain sight, if we have open hearts and eyes we may just be able to change one person’s story. Also we can pray that our hearts would be opened to the people we pass in the street, those who live in our streets, those we work with, those who serve us in shops, clean our school so that each person is seen and recognised.
O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery
to the dignity of being your daughter and a 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 Christ our Lord
Taken from the Missal as the Collect for 8 February
By Janet Hopper NSCJ