The Hidden Slavery in Our Midst
We in the United States have a long and troubled history with the scourge of slavery. We recall its origins in the colonial era, the evil Trans-Atlantic slave trade that swept millions into bondage, the tragic blood-letting of the Civil War, and the tainted legacy that still impacts our African-American brothers and sisters. We tend to view slavery as something in the rear-view mirror of our nation, as something that we study only in the history books or to be seen in movies such as “Lincoln” or “Twelve Years a Slave”.
But there is still slavery among us — hidden in the shadows, and fed by the sin of human trafficking.
Around the world, millions of people, mostly children and women, are forced into servitude in the degrading sex trade or coerced into menial labor. But this is not a problem just in far-off lands. Human trafficking is a significant problem here in New York. In our own streets and neighborhoods, women and children are being exploited and treated as mere products to be used and discarded. Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced it as a “crime against humanity”.
Our public authorities have made great strides in attacking this modern slave trade. Federal, state and local law enforcement and social service agencies — including our own Catholic Charities and many of our women religious — are helping the victims. One particularly heroic effort is being made by Sr. Joan Dawber and her colleagues at LifeWay Network, which helps sex trafficking survivors escape their servitude and reclaim their lives.
But more needs to be done, and it cannot succeed without the power of prayer. The Holy Father has asked people around the world to join together on Sunday, February 8, to pray for an end to human trafficking. That is an appropriate day, for it is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized in 2000 by Pope St. John Paul. She was herself a victim of the slave trade, having been torn from her home when she was a young girl. Eventually she found freedom in the home of an Italian family, who showed her the love and support that she deserved as a beautiful child of God.
St. Josephine Bakhita’s story is one of hope and redemption. With our prayers, we can hold out that same hope to the modern slaves among us, the men, women and children who are victims of human trafficking. Please join in prayer on February 8.