A young woman is branded with a barcode tattooed behind her neck.
A man shows his back scourged from beatings; a tearful girl with bruises over her body.
These were some of the images used during a virtual prayer service to observe the World Day Against Trafficking In Persons on July 30, to press home the fact that human trafficking is real and an international scourge.
The United Nations observance had as its 2020 theme Working on the front lines to end human trafficking. According to the UN webpage, “This year, we will focus on the first responders to human trafficking. These are the people who work in different sectors—identifying, supporting, counselling and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of the traffickers.”
About 30 persons participated in the service hosted by The Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development, a ministry of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (SSM). Participants came from USA, Ghana, Grenada, Antigua, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, and Italy.
The highlight of the service was a PowerPoint pictorial reflection using The Stabat Mater, a 13th-century Christian prayer to Mary, which portrays her suffering as Jesus Christ’s mother during His crucifixion. The congregation prays that prayer daily.
Rome-based General Assistant on the SSM General Council, Grenada-born Sr Julie Marie Peters led the session. She said the reflection was to “look at the suffering and plight of people who are trafficked through the compassionate heart of Mary”.
“Stay with the image, the prayer, your thoughts,” said Sr Julie at the end of the PowerPoint. She asked each participant to quietly reflect, “What am I going to take away (from this session)? How am I going to respond?”
She echoed Pope Francis’ statement that human trafficking was a crime against humanity, and “the continuation of the suffering of Christ in our modern society”.
Sr Gillian Jerome SSM in Grenada did the welcome saying the service was a call to pray for our “brothers and sisters caught in the dehumanising trade of human trafficking, and for the perpetrators of this crime”. Let us “have that faith and belief… that fervent prayer will plant the seeds of conversion in the hearts of all perpetrators… and result in the conversion of minds and hearts, and the wisdom for first responders to human trafficking.”
The service began with an opening prayer calling on the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita of Sudan, who was trafficked into the slave trade when she was a child, and a recorded Veni Sancti Spiritus (Invocation of the Holy Spirit) sung in different languages.
Intercessory prayers were offered in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and participants were later invited to pray the ‘Our Father’ simultaneously in their own language.
This, explained Sr Julie, was to “symbolise the fact that when people are trafficked, most times to disempower them, they are sent to places, sold to places, where they cannot speak the language. From history we know this was done in slavery. Families were separated and sent to plantations where slaves didn’t speak the same language.”
The closing prayer was a video clip of female students praying in Swahili in solidarity with those who have been trafficked.
Sr Gudrun Maria Schellner SSM, a Councillor on the General Council, gave the thanks and closing remarks. Speaking in her native German and English, and reflecting on human trafficking, she said if one person is suffering, then all of humanity is suffering. “May our prayers be followed by actions.”
The service can be viewed on the Franciscan Institute’s Facebook page. —RS