VATICAN CITY — “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Pope Francis often holds up Cain’s cynical words and attitude of indifference as a rallying cry against the apathy and outright complicity shown in today’s world to the crime and horror of human trafficking.
At least 21 million people have been forced into modern-day slavery and many of those were caught in the snares of traffickers. Some experts believe human trafficking will soon overtake drug and arms trafficking as the most lucrative criminal activity in the world.
The U.S. bishops and Catholics in some parts of the world dedicate a day of prayer and fasting for victims and survivors of trafficking on Feb. 8 — the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery and dedicated her life to comforting others after she was freed.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and condemned the lack of outrage and action to stop this affront to human dignity:
We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence.
— Speech to new ambassadors to the Vatican Dec. 12, 2013
It is horrifying just to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; children turned into merchandise in that terrible form of modern slavery called human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.
— Speech to Vatican diplomatic corps Jan. 13, 2014
As Church we should remember that in tending the wounds of refugees, evacuees and the victims of trafficking, we are putting into practice the commandment of love that Jesus bequeathed to us when he identified with the foreigner, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation. We should reread more often chapter 25 of the Gospel according to Matthew in which he speaks of the Last Judgement (verses 31-46).
— Speech to Vatican council for migrants May 24, 2013
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was just as outspoken — especially in his homilies during his annual Mass for victims of trafficking:
Sinning city, suffering city, city that doesn’t know how to weep. Buenos Aires needs to cry, to cry for the enslavement of her children, of so many sons and daughters who have passed through its dump trucks and are left in the garbage. We have set up a throwaway culture in Buenos Aires…
How can this be? … There’s a daily-dose of anesthesia this city knows how to use very well and it’s called bribery, and with this anesthesia, consciences are put to sleep.
— Mass with and for victims of forced labor and trafficking Sept. 23, 2011
It’s worth fighting so Buenos Aires has no more slavery … That’s what God asks of us today: “Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast.” And let us rub it in the face of all those who invented this infernal machine of exclusion, this infernal machine that disposes of people and let’s curse their conduct and ask God to convert their hearts.
— Mass for a world without slavery Sept. 4, 2009