A ‘call to a social change of heart’



This week Caritas Internationalis, the church’s confederation of Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations, will be holding their General Assembly here at the Vatican. It will include elections and strategic decisions about the global efforts steered by CI. Since the gathering is quite large, with over 160 member organizations, they only hold assemblies of this size every four years.

However, I recently attended a local event where Caritas partnered with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and COATNET, Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings, in the curial offices in Palazzo San Calisto. The collaborating bodies presented a document translated into English as “Christian Commitment: Created in the Image of God, Treated Like Slaves.” The president of the council, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglió, gave a stirring introduction and encouraged the work being undertaken to end what the Holy Father has called a “shameful scourge unworthy of a civil society.” In addition to the Caritas and PCMI representatives, other speakers included a number of priests and religious, as well as lay specialists, who worked for organizations such as the Apostolate to the Seas, Talitha Kum, and Slaves No More.

The document explains and explores the problem from a variety of angles. “Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It involves controlling a person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to forced labour and sexual exploitation, debt bondage or other forms of servitude. Human trafficking strips victims of their freedom and violates the dignity as the human person created in the image of God.”

Papal teaching makes clear that whoever exploits human persons in this way, even if indirectly, “becomes an accomplice of this injustice.”

And despite the fact that millions of individuals are trafficked every year, only a few thousand people are convicted of crimes related to it.

The text calls the entire church, from hierarchy to faithful, to work on the issue in areas of prevention and awareness raising, assistance to victims, advocacy, and networking with relevant authorities, NGOs, and international organizations.

The event closed with the viewing of a short documentary video, available online, which was produced with help from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the USCCB entitled “Crossing Continents, Breaking Chains.” In it, victims talk of the chain of command and tortures they underwent of being “assaulted, abused and threatened with death.” They are in these instances no longer treated as human beings, but as objects stripped of all dignity and worth.

Catholic social teaching makes clear that we are to stand in solidarity with all human beings and ceaselessly recognize in them the ineradicable seal of the divine with which they are universally endowed. Human trafficking is one travesty, among many others, which too often goes unnoticed in our consumerist culture, and is in need of prophetic voices to call us to a social change of heart and attitude and to thwart what the pope has called the “globalization of indifference.”

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.