By KATIE SCOTT, Catholic News Service | Published February 19, 2015
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Highlighting the life, suffering and enduring hope of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley called for reflection and action to combat modern-day slavery during his homily on the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking Feb. 8.
We must “do everything in our power through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to eradicate human trafficking,” the bishop told the nearly 1,000 people—including trafficking survivors—gathered for the noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Held on the feast of St. Josephine, the day was designated by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Union of Superiors General. Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services organized a national day of prayer for victims and survivors of human trafficking, and it spearheaded this year’s liturgy at the shrine.
The day offered the fruits of “compounded prayer” and was an opportunity to shed light on a pervasive tragedy, said Hilary Chester, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ anti-trafficking program, in an interview Feb. 6.
Labor trafficking victims found in poorly regulated U.S. industries
According to the U.N. International Labor Organization, there are nearly 21 million human trafficking victims worldwide. Chester said that while there has been increased education and awareness, human trafficking is increasing.
In the United States, victims of labor trafficking are “all around us” in poorly regulated industries like agriculture, in-home domestic work, nursing home work and the food-service industry. Sex trafficked victims can be foreign nationals, but they also are U.S. citizens, often children who are in abusive homes or foster care situations.
About a dozen women who know the experience firsthand were present at the shrine Mass and helped carry up the gifts during the offertory. The women, all highly educated teachers from the Philippines, were lured to the United States by recruiters with promises of a better life.
Because of corruption and a poor economy in the Philippines, many people are forced to migrate, according to Jo Quiambao, secretary general for Gabriela DC, a grass-roots organization that works with Filipina human trafficking survivors.
Illegal recruiters use sophisticated tactics to exploit the situation in the island nation.
Such was the case with around 300 women—200 now in D.C.—who were promised lucrative teaching jobs in the United States. After selling their homes and exhausting their savings to come to the states, the women found themselves jobless, moneyless and with illegal status.