Seek end to ‘form of slavery’ called human trafficking

Calling human trafficking “a modern day form of slavery,” the Catholic bishops of Illinois and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of Illinois have issued a joint statement urging people of good will to seek its end through prayer, work and education.

“Eradicating Human Trafficking” comes at the beginning of National Migration Week, which is being observed Jan. 3-9, and just before National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Jan. 11. The theme for National Migration Week, which highlights the church’s work with immigrants, refugees, trafficked persons and other people on the move, is “Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice.”

“The mission of the Gospel is to set captives free and to show mercy to our neighbor who is in need. Human trafficking around the world betrays every dimension of personhood and is a modern day form of slavery,” the Illinois bishops and LCWR Region 8 leaders say in their statement.

They note that human trafficking involves “the movement of people through violence, deception or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, servitude, slavery-like practices and prostitution” and is a “tragic denial of human rights.”

Saying that Illinois is already recognized as a forerunner in taking steps to stop human trafficking, the bishops and the women religious say it is still necessary “to raise awareness of the issue and to promote a response of compassionate assistance to victims in their need.”

BELIEVED to be the first of its kind, the joint statement took about three years to formulate, according to Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB, prioress of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island.
She explained that the leaders of LCWR Region 8, which encompasses religious communities throughout Illinois, meets annually with the state’s bishops. They have been using part of that time to write and refine “Eradicating Human Trafficking.”
The issue of human trafficking has been on their radar for some time since the women religious traditionally have worked on the local and state level to support programs that benefit women and children, Sister Phyllis said.
Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago and LCWR Region 8 chairperson, said her own community has had personal experience with the issue of human trafficking.

“MANY communities of women religious are in other countries and are in service ministries and have come across this issue in the people they have dealt with,” she told The Catholic Post in a telephone interview last week, acknowledging that this is something that can be difficult to recognize.

“I think people who are trafficked are not identifiable to people — and may not identify themselves,” she said. “They don’t trust others because they’ve been taken advantage of.”

“There’s a lot more going on than we’re aware of,” Sister Phyllis said.

“Eradicating Human Trafficking” explains that at any given time, approximately 2.5 million persons around the world are victims and that at least one-third of them are trafficked for economic purposes. It is estimated that this constitutes a $3.2 billion market.

“Human trafficking is difficult to eradicate,” Sister Phyllis told The Post. “Traders often defeat new law enforcement practices by moving their victims from hot spots to other, quieter regions. They also cross state lines to avoid prosecution.”

EDUCATION is one key to eliminating it, Sister Patricia said.

“It’s important for people to get educated so can they can recognize it when see it,” she said. “It’s very important that people be aware that it could be happening in their area.”

The joint statement by the Illinois bishops and the leaders of LCWR Region 8 also emphasizes the need to pray for human trafficking victims worldwide, to support those who are already assisting survivors, and to participate in legislative advocacy efforts that promote the dignity of trafficked persons. It includes the Web site for the Illinois Rescue and Restore Campaign, which was launched in 2005, and lists the toll free number for the National Human Trafficking hotline.

“We, the Catholic bishops, women religious and the Catholic laity of Illinois, are committed to ending this modern day form of slavery,” the statement says in closing.

“We ask God to bless all our efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to human trafficking that eliminates the root causes, supports the survivors and actively seeks to assist them in healing from this horrendous crime.”

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