The third international day of prayer, reflection and action on human trafficking declared by Pope Francis took place on 8 February 2017, the feast of St Bakhita. A dynamic and interactive evening was held at the Institute for Mission at Blacktown to celebrate this event for the Diocese of Parramatta.
The Sudanese community of All Saints of Africa Centre and St Bakhita Centre Flemington led us in prayer and concluded with a hymn to St Bakhita that brought rhythm and color to our evening.
Members of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) were present to provide a warm welcome to the diverse group attending the evening.
To view a gallery of photos from the night, click here.
This was an important occasion to launch an Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) Series Paper on Human Trafficking and Slavery – A response from Australian Catholics by Christine Carolan and Sr Noelene Simmons SM.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv was present as Chair of the ACSJC to launch the publication and strongly repeat his affirmation of us all to support the work of ACRATH in this area and to take action in practical ways.
Bishop Vincent said, “Human trafficking and similar forms of exploitation flourish because of society’s greed for cheap goods and services and because it is so easy to forget that those who meet these needs are human beings with their own innate God-given dignity.
“I commend this precious little book to you. I likewise commend the work of ACRATH. Their tireless education, research, advocacy and accompaniment have made a huge difference for people who have been trafficked in Australia and beyond.
“Religious are often at the coalface; they occupy liminal, peripheral and precarious places. Like Christ, they identify with the marginalised by immersing themselves at the margins.
“ACRATH is evidence of this radical immersion and movement to free people from exploitation. They show us that when we stand in solidarity with those without hope and act together, we can be channels of hope.”
To read Bishop Vincent’s address in full, click here.
Sr Noelene Simmons SM, co-author and regional coordinator for ACRATH, gave a challenging overview of the paper, describing the forms that slavery and related crimes take in the modern world.
She outlined the Church’s teaching on and response to slavery and other forms of exploitation, and the international and Australian laws that deal with slavery.
Sr Noelene pointed out the long-term advocacy work that Australian religious and members of ACRATH have participated in, including regular visits to Canberra for a week of meetings with Members of Parliament and staff at embassies for whom human trafficking is of particular concern.
The presentation also described the efforts of ACRATH to educate Australians, to advocate on behalf of victims, and to work with similar organisations here and overseas to shut down human trafficking and exploitation, including people who may be subject to forced marriage.
There were practical suggestions complete with a discussion guide that can be used by interested groups. We spent time challenged by this input in energetic discussion, sharing our actions and responses.
A member of the St Clair Social Justice Group summed up the evening: “The issue is so awful and so widespread, including forced child labour, that we do need to do something about it,
“Perhaps we can spread the word about shopping ethically for coffee, chocolates, ethical choices in clothes and electrical goods and help people to search online.
“Bishop Vincent has written the foreword to the series paper and is here to launch it, so thanks for a great evening. It was also good to hear what other parishes are doing.”
To order copies of ACSJC Series Paper No 79, click here.
Sr Louise McKeogh FMA is Director of the Social Justice Office for the Diocese of Parramatta.