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By Michelle Hough
Sunday is the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.
CASERTA, Italy — Jean Konan* speaks five languages. He’s bright, articulate and knows his rights. He’s also been a modern-day slave, working in the fields for just €25 ($29) a day and sometimes for nothing at all.
“They say that slavery’s been abolished, yet it still exists but it’s invisible,” says Jean.
He left his home in Ivory Coast in 2006 when the political situation became unsettled. As a language student he thought he’d have a brighter future abroad.
After a terrible journey across the Sahara, through Libya and across the Mediterranean, Jean arrived in Caserta, near Naples. It’s a hub for African migrants looking for work in agriculture.
Caritas gave him a place to stay and food, and very soon he joined dozens of other African migrants who gathered at the town’s roundabouts at dawn, waiting to be picked up by foremen who would give them work in the fields.
In his first job picking tobacco, he got €2 ($2.2) an hour for 12 hours’ work a day. For picking oranges in the south of Italy, he got around €22 ($25) a day. He thought he’d hit the jackpot when an electrician took him on as an assistant, promising him €1,200 ($1,374) per month. He eventually got €250 ($286) after a month’s work and was let go. After that, a woman gave him work picking tobacco but didn’t pay him anything after two months.
“They knew I had no papers and they knew they could do what they wanted with me,” said Jean. “I was afraid I could go to prison if I said anything.”
With encouragement and help from a lawyer at Caritas, Jean reported his employer to the authorities. They took the woman to court, but didn’t manage to get the money owed to Jean.
“The real chains that bind Italy’s migrant workers are economic ones,” said Gian Luca Castaldi, head of the migrant office at Caritas Caserta.
He explains that migrant workers don’t report unscrupulous employers for a number of reasons. They are afraid and see their poverty as an inescapable reality; they don’t want to be seen as a traitor by the other workers; they feel as though the owe something to the informal labor network in which many migrants without documents work; and legal proceedings in Italy can be very long and complicated. In some cases, the workers don’t even realize that they’re being exploited when they’re paid too little, too late or nothing at all.
Castaldi says that the African migrant workers around Caserta risk far more than non-payment for work. Apart from physical abuse, Castaldi says that out of 101 migrants Caritas is helping because of labor exploitation, around 30 have been sexually abused. There have also been unconfirmed cases of organ trafficking in the area.
A doctor working for the medical service Caritas offers weekly to the migrants says that migrants suffer both physically and mentally. He says there are many cases of depression and alcoholism. Many of the migrants have skin ailments because of the nature of their work and stomach problems because of poor diet. There’s also a high number of previously undiagnosed cases of diabetes.
Jean got his papers when the Italian government created an amnesty for migrants and is now working as a mediator for migrants at the Caritas center in Caserta, and is part of the Immigrant and Refugee Movement of Caserta.
“It’s inhuman to treat us like this,” he says. “We need laws against exploitation and we must all work together – all people of all different races – for future generations. People must shake off their ignorance.”
“I still dream of a future. I feel I can help people change their lives and I want to use my experience with racism to help them,” says Jean.
*Name changed to protect identity
Caritas Internationalis coordinates COATNET – Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings. It’s a network that links together 42 Christian groups which are fighting human trafficking. They raise awareness, lobby for change and help people who’ve been trafficked or abused by employers. Learn more here.
This article was made possible thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders must ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and are offering appropriate care for victims and their families, Pope Francis said.
“Priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors,” he said in a written letter.
The letter, dated Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was sent to the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide and the superiors of religious orders. The Vatican released a copy of the letter Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha.
In his letter, the pope said, “Families need to know that the church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.”
With protecting minors as a top priority, the pope said he wants to encourage and promote the church’s commitment to protection and care “at every level — episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life — to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy.”
He reminded church leaders they were expected to fully implement the provisions in the 2011 circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requiring all dioceses in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse.
“It is likewise important that episcopal conferences establish a practical means for periodically reviewing their norms and verifying that they are being observed,” he wrote.
The pope underlined that it was “the responsibility of diocesan bishops and major superiors to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other church institutions.”
The church also has the “duty to express the compassion of Jesus toward those who have suffered abuse and toward their families,” which is why dioceses and religious orders should set up pastoral care programs “which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care.”
Priests and heads of religious communities “should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he wrote.
The pope said he established in December 2013 the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to draw up ways the church could improve its norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.
This commission, led by U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and made up of survivors and lay experts in the field, is meant to be “a new, important and effective means for helping me to encourage and advance the commitment of the church at every level” in taking concrete steps to ensure greater abuse protection and care, he said.
The pope then asked for the “close and complete cooperation” of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders with the commission for the protection of minors, whose duties include assisting church leaders in “an exchange of best practices and through programs of education, training and developing adequate responses to sex abuse.”
The pope asked for prayers that the church “carry out, generously and thoroughly, our duty to humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.”
“A feeling of home, plus the amenities of a hotel … Benedictine hospitality awaits you in the desert!”
That’s the welcoming message on the website of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Phoenix. The sisters’ decision to rent out some rooms for Super Bowl fans has created a bit of a media buzz with coverage on a local TV station and in The Arizona Republic newspaper.
The monastery is 5.5 miles from the site of Super Bowl XLIX — the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Sister Linda Campbell told The Arizona Republic that after hearing some residents were renting out rooms in their homes to football fans to make some extra income, the sisters decided to go for it, too, and use it as a fundraiser. Besides, according to the newspaper, they had tried it once before — for the Super Bowl in 2008, which brought in $12,600. “I think there are people who just like a quiet atmosphere, that seemed to be the people we drew,” Sister Linda recalled.
The monastery had eight guest rooms to rent out — two in a room for $300 — and accommodations included WiFi and a continental breakfast.
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Ann O’Connor of Syracuse Catholic Worker dies
The Catholic Worker community in Syracuse, New York, lost one of its stalwarts with the death of Ann O’Connor, 81, Jan. 17.
In 1971 she became involved with Unity Kitchen Community in Syracuse, where she met her husband, Peter King. They married in 1980. Together they assumed major roles in operating the kitchen, which offered twice-weekly meals to the city’s poor and homeless residents to go along with Sunday Mass.
“She was 18 years older than me, but we met and formed an alliance,” said King, who with his wife called themselves “hospitallers,” those who provide hospitality. “We both thought the other was extremely humorous. We spent a lot of time making each other laugh. We became pretty good friends, best friends, before we got involved romantically.
“Marry your best friend, that’s my advice,” he said.
A funeral Mass was scheduled for Jan. 24 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
O’Connor was influenced by the writings of Catholic Worker co-founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and brought her organizational skills to Unity Kitchen. A story in the Syracuse Post-Standard said she was attracted to the kitchen as an anti-Vietnam War activist because its founders, Bob Russell and Father Ted Sizing, were involved with sit-ins at Syracuse’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Born in Syracuse in 1933, O’Connor lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio as her father’s railroad job took him to other communities. The family returned to Syracuse in 1949, where O’Connor lived the rest of her life. About that time, at age 16, she contracted severe arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair for the next 65 years, but the disability did not stop her activism and drive to care for the city’s poor residents.
King said the meals will continue. The community provides hospitality on beautifully set tables with matching silverware and china. Each table is named for a saint. Guests are served by volunteers. King said Unity Kitchen hardly provides a soup kitchen atmosphere.
“It’s built along the idea of lavish hospitality,” he explained, referencing the monks of the Middle Ages who felt that it was important to treat the hidden Christ at their door with only best.
Pax Christi International turns 70
Pax Christi International turns 70 this year and will celebrate its founding with a special series of programs in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
The Pilgrims on the Path to Peace event will take place May 13-17 with programs on the major milestones of Pax Christi’s history, challenges to realizing justice and peace in the Holy Land, and planning for the future, as the Catholic peace organization heads toward its 75th anniversary in 2020.
There also will be a peace festival holding up the work of local and international peacemakers. The 2015 Pax Christi Peace International Award will be presented at the event.
The organization said Bethlehem was chosen as a symbol of its commitment to peace and reconciliation.
Pax Christi members and others working for peace in the world are invited to join the celebration. More information is available at the organization’s website.
Education for Justice
The package includes for use by groups, classrooms or prayer groups wishing to understand the importance of the civil rights movement and the struggle still being faced by people of color in the U.S. today.
Among the items included are an interview with Donna Toliver Grimes, assistant director, African-American affairs in the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, who shares her experiences of racism and how her faith has empowered her to end all forms of discrimination; Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message focusing on modern day human trafficking and migration around the world; a video in which Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans, discusses Catholic social teaching and world economic systems; prayers for racial justice; and a discussion guide to the film “Selma.”
To access the resources, individuals or institutions must subscribe. Costs vary depending on the type of subscription desired.
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MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — At his last major event in the Philippines, Pope Francis told a crowd of millions gathered in a Manila park to protect the family “against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
The pope’s homily at the Jan. 18 Mass also reprised several other themes he had sounded during the four-day visit, including environmental problems, poverty and corruption.
Despite continuous rain, the congregation in Rizal Park began to assemble the night before the afternoon celebration. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila canceled other Masses throughout the archdiocese to enhance turnout. The crowd was so dense in spots that people passed hosts to fellow worshippers unable to reach priests distributing Communion.
The government estimated total crowd size at 6 million-7 million people. According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, that would be the largest number of people ever to gather to see a pope. A Mass with St. John Paul II in the same place 20 years earlier is believed to have drawn 4 million-5 million people, often described as the largest live crowd in history.
For his final scheduled public talk in the country, Pope Francis stuck to his prepared English text and did not improvise in Spanish, as he had done at several emotional points during the visit. Yet his voice rose with emphasis during the passage about protecting the family.
Those words echoed his warning, during a Jan. 16 meeting with Filipino families, against “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family” through such practices as same-sex marriage and contraception.
In his homily, Pope Francis said Christians “need to see each child as a gift to welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”
The pope praised the Philippines, whose population is more than 80 percent Catholic, as the “foremost Catholic country in Asia,” and said its people, millions of whom work abroad, are “called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.”
Yet he warned the developing nation, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, against the temptations of materialism, saying the devil “hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern, like everyone else. He lures us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink.”
Pope Francis, who had urged a group of young people earlier in the day to address the challenge of climate change through dedication to the environment, told Mass-goers human sinfulness had “disfigured (the) natural beauty” of creation.
Other consequences of sin, the pope said, were “social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption,” problems he had emphasized in his Jan. 16 speech at Manila’s presidential palace.
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