On the forefront of awareness and action against human trafficking is Sr. Gabriella Bottani, coordinator of Talitha Kum, and head of the committee organizing the World Day of Prayer and Awareness Agaist Human Trafficking. She spoke with Sr. Bernadette Reis praising the efforts of her fellow women religious, expressing her hope for an international policy, and explaining ways that all of us can get involved.
Sr. Gabriella tells us that the World Day of Prayer began because of the inspiration of the life of St Josephine Bakhita, herself a slave, who was canonized in 2007. St. Josephine’s experience caused “some religious women—Italian religious women—to ask Pope Francis to have this international day of prayer for the whole Church.” As a result, Pope Francis entrusted this task in 2014 to the Unions of Superiors General asking them to promote this day.
The theme for the 2018 World Day of prayer is “Migration without trafficking. Say yes to Freedom and No to slavery.” Sr. Gabriella tells us that according to statistics released last year by the International Organization for Migration “around 75% of the people that were crossing the Mediterranean Sea (…) said and declared to have experienced trafficking. So we are speaking about a huge percentage of people at least in this area.” Most at risk are those migrating illegally, most particularly young women, both before and after they reach their destination.
Pope Francis’ voice has been very important she says. “The voice of Pope Francis is a prophetic voice supporting the whole Church, and all people of good will working in this field.” She sees his influence in the increased commitment on the part of Catholic organizations, and the support of Bishops Conferences which is growing. The participation of the Holy See in the United Nation’s sponsored global compact for migration, she says, is also very important. Her hope is that “they will be able also to promote a good international policy to protect migrants against trafficking.”
The contribution of women religious in the work against human trafficking is fundamental because “religious women are really the ones that are able to transform prayer in action.” There are 22 networks in 76 countries “and sisters are really very active in prevention and assisting victims.” It is precisely because they live among the people and can access remote areas where people are recruited by traffickers that makes their presence in this effort so valuable. “The trust relationship that sisters have worldwide are very important also. We enter into families, we are in dialogue with the women and children.” Many sisters have been able to alert local authorities when a student has stopped going to school. “In many cases we were also able to give the right information to allow the governmental organization to rescue these people from trafficking.” She also tells us of a new initiative of women religious working with Talitha Kum in Thailand. “They started a very interesting work with Buddhist nuns…. The religious sisters will train the Buddhist nuns, and the Buddhist nuns will get involved with us in anti-trafficking.”
For anyone who is appalled at the reality of human trafficking and wants to help, Sr. Gabriella says that the first thing to do is to be informed. She acknowledges that this topic is not covered well in the news, making it difficult to be well-informed. “We can help support projects. There are many projects: shelters, assisting victims, prevention work done in the countries of origins.” When this is not possible, she says that as consumers we can help by being discerning about the purchase of cell phones and clothing, especially T-shirts, which are often manufactured using trafficked persons. She also believes and thinks that “prayer is also very important and a helpful way to support either anti-trafficking activities but also the conversion of the people responsible for trafficking.”
Preparation for the 2018 World Day of Prayer and Awareness Raising against Human Trafficking began back in November with a seminar in Rome. A group of young people also attended this seminar. “This year we have a blessing. We asked Pope Francis to welcome us for an audience. And we will be 110 persons representing this youth movement, including survivors, young people, and of course, representatives of the organization and members of the committee of the International Day of Prayer Against Trafficking.”
By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp