This year’s Day for Life in England and Wales aims to raise awareness of the “vile crime of human trafficking” among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. There, the Catholic Church is preparing to celebrate the Day on Sunday, 17 June. In a statement, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales explains that this is the day in the Church’s year dedicated to raising awareness about the “meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition”. This year, the focus will be on the appalling crime of trafficking in human beings.
Informed of the initiative, Pope Francis has sent a special message through the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams. The message is a prayer to “the merciful God”, that, through the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita, Patron Saint of victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, “the chains of captivity of those who have been trafficked may be broken”. The Pope prays that “God may free all those who have been threatened, wounded or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings and bring comfort to those who have survived such inhumanity”. The Holy Father goes on to make an appeal: “May we all open our eyes, see the misery of those who are completely deprived of their dignity and freedom, and hear their cry for help”.
In their statement, the Bishops of England and Wales explain the initiative by recalling what Pope Francis wrote about the dignity of every human being in his latest Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate”. They refer to paragraph 101, in which the Pope says: “Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection”.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has always been committed to fighting these inhumane crimes that are on the rise throughout the world. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is also the chair of the Santa Marta Group, a global alliance that brings together international police chiefs, bishops and religious communities working in partnership with civil society to eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery. It is named after the house where Pope Francis lives – the English Bishops recall – and where the founder members stayed in 2014 prior to signing, in the presence of the Holy Father, an historic declaration of commitment. The Group now has members in over 30 countries (www.santamartagroup.com). In the UK alone, it is estimated that every year there are over 13,000 victims of trafficking. On 17 June, there will be a mandatory second collection in parishes in England and Wales to support “those that work to restore their lives to the full”.