Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Santa Marta Group, an organisation that works to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery, gave this homily in Westminster Cathedral on the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, 8 February.
World Day of Prayer and Awareness for the Victims of Human Trafficking
Today, on the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, we observe a World Day of Prayer and Awareness for the Victims of Human Trafficking. In our prayer we join people throughout the world in praying for an end to this scourge of humanity.
Human trafficking is described by Pope Francis as “a wound in the flesh of humanity.” We must face the fact that there are around 50 million people enslaved at this moment. This is a battle far from being won.
As vulnerability around the world increases with conflict, hunger, and the mobility of people, the risks of human trafficking rise. Many people contribute to addressing this. I mentioned the Santa Marta Group, which has a key priority this year of looking for states to honour the undertakings they have made in this battle.
It is the Feast of Josephine Bakhita. Her story is well known from being a young girl in Sudan, being taken into slavery and tortured, to becoming a sister – a member of a religious order.
When we look at her life, we see characteristics of service and of forgiveness, too. The Gospel passage we heard of the Syrophoenician woman, who was considered by the people around Jesus to be unwanted and an outcast, speaks to us vividly of those who have been enslaved and the damage that is done to them. Like the Syrophoenician woman, we come asking in prayer for help for every single person on their road from that trauma to the road of recovery.
We thank God for the work of Bakhita House in this diocese. Over the past eight years, it has welcomed and helped nearly 200 guests – women recovering from that trauma. They’ve come from 49 countries. 14 babies have been born there. It is a family that constantly extends its love and compassion. As a result of those who have come through Bakhita House, prison sentences of 188 years have been imposed on traffickers. The work of the house is sustained by many volunteers – 2,000 hours of volunteers’ help in 2023 alone. We give thanks for that work.
There is another focus of our prayer today, for Sudan – the country of Josephine Bakhita. We hear in the news today that it is even more radically wrecked by war. Nine million people displaced, 25 million people in need of assistance.
Let us pray:
Loving God, you are present in the whole universe and in all your creatures.
We pray for the victims of human trafficking and their families.
We pray for those affected by wars and conflicts, and those who work tirelessly to rescue and support them.
We ask for the grace of healing, protection and liberation from the chains of violence and exploitation, for each trafficked person and for victims of wars and conflicts everywhere.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.
The Santa Marta Group is an alliance of police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It is a key component in the Church’s response to this evil crime. The President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, is also President of the Santa Marta Group.
Visit its website: santamartagroup.org
Caritas Bakhita House opened on 30 June 2015 with a mission to provide safe accommodation and support for women escaping human trafficking, sexual exploitation and slavery.
Every guest is provided with the support they need to build a new future. Caritas Bakhita House exists outside the Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and has the flexibility and resources to provide longer-term and tailored support for the guests.
It is owned by the Diocese of Westminster and managed by Caritas Westminster.
More information: caritaswestminster.org.uk/bakhita-house