Slaves no more, but sisters and brothers

On 8 February the Catholic Church celebrated the first International day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Slavery.  The date was chosen because it is the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave, who became a Canossian nun. 

St Josephine Bakhita was born on 8 February 1869 in Sudan to a wealthy family.  She was kidnapped by slave traders at the age of six and given the name of Bakhita (meaning Lucky One).  She was sold and resold in the markets of El Obeida and Khartoum.  In 1883 she was purchased by Callisto Legnani from the Italian consulate, who planned to free her.  St Josephine Bakhita entered the institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice in 1893, and served as a Canossian sister for fifty years, dying on 8 February 1947.  She was beatified in 1992 and canonised in 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

The Day is promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, the International Union of Superiors General  and the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” whose Chairman, Cardinal Peter Turkson, said at a press conference this week:

“Millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery. For those who cry out – usually in silence – for liberation, St Josephine Bakhita is an exemplary witness of hope. We, victims and advocates alike, could do no better than be inspired by her life and entrust our efforts to her intercession… The Holy Father invites us all to recognise that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilisation comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself”. 

On the occasion of this first day of prayer and reflection, all dioceses, parishes, families and individuals are invited to reflect and pray in order to bear witness to and raise awareness of this crime.  Prayer vigils were held in different countries, culminating in the Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square on 8 February.

The Pope's prayer against human trafficking:

Slaves no more but sisters and brothers

O God, when we hear of children and adults deceived and taken to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, and organ harvesting, our hearts are saddened and our spirits angry that their dignity and rights are ignored through threats, lies and force.  We cry out against the evil practice of this modern slavery, and pray with St Bakhita for it to end.  Give us wisdom and courage to reach out and stand with those whose bodies, hearts and spirits have been so wounded, so that together we may make real your promises to fill these sisters and brothers with a love that is tender and good.  Send the exploiters away empty-handed to be converted from this wickedness, and help us all to claim the freedom that is your gift to your children.  Amen