Modern Slavery

After a recent Nov. 2-3 workshop of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences to which Pope Francis had summoned experts in socio-economic, medical and pastoral matters, to discuss the incidence of human trafficking today, the Vatican announced last Monday, Nov. 4, that the pope wants action.

An issue close to his heart, no one knows better than he the suffering induced by networks of modern-day enslavement. His years in Latin America and his demonstrated desire to remain close to the struggles and sufferings of ordinary people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, no doubt inspire his sense of urgency. He even invited two experts in human trafficking from Buenos Aires, in his native Argentina.

The persistence of centuries-old patterns of oppression of women and children through prostitution, often institutionalized, and other forms of forced labor, should not deter the pursuit and promotion of “zero tolerance” policies on an international scale. Something must be done to confront and restrain these social cancers in a concerted way.

Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, stressed this objective at the conclusion of the convocation, noting their links with drugs, mafia violence and tax fraud. One of the most insidious and intractable forms of slavery, especially in Latin America, is the exploitation of adolescents and even younger children as drug dealers.

As he has been doing on so many fronts with a host of issues, the Holy Father’s initiative and forthrightness can embolden the efforts of those who also may have seen the evils but may have felt powerless to address them effectively.

The first step, of course, is to open the eyes of more and more of our fellow citizens, non-Christians and Christians alike, to such social evils that plague us all. The struggle against organ trafficking and human smuggling – often marketed to “high end” clientele in so-called civilized quarters – must challenge what is becoming, according to experts, an even more lucrative criminal market than drugs and arms trafficking. In our own communities, the induction of young people into gangs puts them on the fast track to be absorbed and ultimately cannibalized by these virtual death machines.

Transforming Outrage into Action

Mere awareness, however, is not enough. Horror and outrage must be transformed into hope and action. That is why Pope Francis is calling for strategies to attack such societal diseases, just as one would fight a physical illness. All the more reason to redouble our local efforts to strengthen family life, uphold the institution of marriage and responsible parenthood and promote a God-centered culture among our young people to help strengthen them against the temptations posed by sexual, chemical and peer-induced dependencies.

The pope has been inviting Catholics to adapt a somewhat less insular, defensive and, to use a volatile word, “judgmental” posture toward the world of human souls desperately in need of the healing message of God’s mercy. The fight against all forms of modern slavery is totally consistent with the Gospel of divine liberation of humanity from personal and institutionalized patterns of sin. It is also a struggle in which we can engage even those who are not of our faith, for its outcome will decidedly affect our common future on God’s good earth.