Francis assembles religious leaders to eradicate human trafficking

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Religious leaders came together in the Vatican to sign a joint declaration on slavery. Exploiters make $150 billion a year out of their victims.

On Tuesday, December 2,Pope Francis held a meeting with a group of religious representatives of different faiths--Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist--and some Christian denominations (starting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew who attended via video link) in the Vatican today, to sign a joint declaration on “modern slavery”, epitomised by prostitution, forced labour and organ trafficking.

According to data published by the Walk Free Foundation, the phenomenon affects 36 million people across the world and according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), exploiters make a profit of 150 billion dollars out of this business every year.

“Therefore, we declare on each and every one of our creeds that modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, and organ trafficking, is a crime against humanity. Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters,” Francis said in the speech he pronounced in Spanish. The Pope sat with the religious representatives in the Casina Pio V hall, or Villa Pia, which is home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences headed by the Argentinian monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. The monsignor opened today’s meeting. “The physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation of men, women and children that is currently inflicted on tens of millions of people constitutes a form of dehumanisation and humiliation. Every human being, man women, boy and girl, is made in God's image. God is the love and freedom that is given in interpersonal relationships, and every human being is a free person destined to live for the good of others in equality and fraternity. Every person, and all people, are equal and must be accorded the same freedom and the same dignity.” Modern slavery, the Pope added, “is present on a large scale throughout the world, also as tourism.” “Let us call to action all persons of faith and their leaders, Governments, businesses, all men and women of good will,” the Pope urged. On Twitter, Francis wrote: “Slaves no more. We are all brothers and sisters.”

“I pray that the Lord will grant us the grace to become a neighbour to all persons, without exception, and to provide active support whenever we encounter on our way an elderly person abandoned by all; an unjustly enslaved and mistreated worker; a refugee caught in the snares of crime; a young person walking the streets of the world, a victim of the sex trade; a man or a woman tricked into prostitution by people with no fear of God; a child mutilated for his or her organs, all of whom call out to our consciences, echoing the voice of the Lord: I assure you that whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The joint declaration has set itself the aim of eradicating modern slavery by 2020: “We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.” Apart from the Pope, signatories included: the head of the Church of England, Justin Welby and Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Bartholomew’s representative; the Buddhist faith was represented by the Thai Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chan Khong and Malay Venerable Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana; Hindus were represented by Mrs. Mata Amritanandamayi and Muslims by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt, Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, the representative of the Grand Ayatollah Basheer Hussain al Najafi, Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar and the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi; the Jewish faith was represented by Jerusalem’s Rabbi David Rosen. Francis’ two Argentinian friends who accompanied him on his trip to the Holy Land last spring – Rabbi Skorka and Sheikh Omar Abboud – also signed the agreement. The Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon sent his message of support. Actress Mira Sorvino was also there to endorse the cause.

Today’s ceremony was held on the occasion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and was an initiative of the Global Freedom Network which got the ball rolling with an agreement signed in the Vatican last 17 March. The goal of this international interreligious network supported by philanthropist Andrew Forrest’s Walk Free Foundation, is to unite religions not on the basis of the so-called “non-negotiable values” but through the common mission of eradicating human trafficking by: spreading awareness in faith communities, promoting ethical trade, increasing treatments offered to victims and survivors, putting pressure on governments and parliaments, creating awareness in societies

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi