Cardinal Vincent Nichols has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating an order of people in distress, poverty, isolation and anxiety, something that ruthless traffickers are quick to exploit.
“This creates vast new reservoirs of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking and is the focus of our prayer and concern on this feast day of St Josephine Bakhita,“ he said, preaching in Westminster Cathedral at a Mass for the patron saint of victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, on her feast day of Monday 8th February.
“The organised criminal networks, which profit ruthlessly through the sale of our brothers and sisters as slaves and no more than commodities to be exploited, are taking full advantage of this chaos: over 40 million trapped today in modern slavery. It is pitiable: a terrible wound in the flesh of humanity, indeed in the body of Christ.”
He also prayed for “every single person entrapped in enforced labour and slavery”, and thanked all of those who work “to free and serve them”.
“Today we speak out for all those trapped in slavery and in the processes of recovery; for a greater responsiveness by our Government through its national referral mechanism and refugee appeal systems, in clear need of renewal and resources; for renewed endeavour by police forces to trace, halt and prosecute traffickers.
“Today we follow in the steps of St Josephine, putting our hands into the hands of the Lord where we are strengthened and renewed, from where we too can speak of our delight in his company and of our determination to serve his people.”
Earlier in the day, the cardinal, who is president of both the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Santa Marta Group, praised the launch of a research centre at St Mary’s University to respond to the growing scale of human trafficking and slavery in the UK and across the globe.
Originally established in 2015, the re-launched Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse aims to be a ‘flagship’ research centre to feed into anti-slavery and human trafficking policy at the highest level – in the UK and internationally – to contribute to education and awareness raising.
“I am proud to see St Mary’s develop and progress its activity in researching the crimes of human exploitation,” said Cardinal Nichols. “Combating modern slavery, exploitation and abuse are core missions of the global Catholic Church through the Santa Marta Group. I look forward to seeing the important interventions the Bakhita Centre will be making in these areas.”
Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton added: “I’m pleased to see the work at St Mary’s University enter an exciting new phase of research, training and education in this important area. As the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I have seen first-hand the crucial role that practitioners play in supporting those affected by trafficking and exploitation. Understanding what works from the survivor-centred and trauma-informed approaches of experts is essential.”
Picture: People protest against modern slavery and human trafficking. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva).