The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Union of Superiors General has designated February 8 as an annual day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking.
“On February 8, Catholics all over the world are encouraged to host or attend prayer services to create greater awareness about this phenomenon. Through prayer, we not only reflect on the experiences of those that have suffered through this affront to human dignity, but also comfort, strengthen, and help empower survivors.”
More than 40 million people are victims of this modern-day slavery today. Of these, 71 percent are female and 29 percent are male with about 10 million of these victims being under the age of 18. Fifteen million (37%) are victims of forced marriage and 21 percent of the child victims sold into this practice are sexually exploited.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for an end to this brutal practice.
“For Francis, they are not numbers,” said Father Fredric Fornos, international director of the pope’s Global Prayer Network, at a press conference last year. “They are names, faces, concrete stories, they are our brothers and sisters in humanity. We cannot be quiet if we don’t wish to sell our soul to the devil.”
The choice of February 8 was no accident. It is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron said of victims of human trafficking She was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. After many long years of torture and abuse, she was brought to Italy and given to an Italian family to serve as a babysitter. It was here that she encountered the Canossian Sisters and felt herself becoming more and more drawn to the Catholic Church. In 1890, she was baptized and took the name Josephine. After being declared free, she entered the Canossian order where the scars of her past life slowly healed and she was able to finally forgive her captors.
“If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today…” she once said.
With prayer, compassion, and a willingness to help end this scourge, there can be many more “St. Josephines” who are not only rescued from captivity, but are healed and restored to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
"The testimonies of the victims who dare to break their silence are a cry for help that we cannot ignore. We must not look the other way," the Pope said in his message for today.
“Let us pray for women who are victims of violence, that they may be protected by society and have their sufferings considered and heeded by all."
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