Twenty five religious women and co-workers representing fourteen European countries, Albania, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and UK, came together having one ministry in common, that of ‘Combating Human Trafficking’. All are members of RENATE.
We gathered in this small village of Čičmany, Northern Slovakia from East, Central and Western Europe to learn about Catholic Social Teaching, Spirituality of Fundraising and to support one another in ministry. We gathered to listen to stories from respective countries, to celebrate together through liturgy, through cultural trips, to support each other in ministry and to enjoy companionship.
Some participants are front line workers offering shelter and support to women who have been the victims of this horrendous crime and who return home psychologically damaged and penniless. Some run shelters supporting women who were lucky enough to escape from their traffickers. Some of the participants were women who work in source countries and so work on preventative programmes with vulnerable women and children. Other participants work to raise awareness responding to requests for talks in universities, schools, media, youth, and other groups. One participant is a volunteer in the UK with PACE (Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation) formerly known as CROP (Coalition for the Removal of Pimping) and one other participant works with the Roma Community in Slovakia.
It was a most enriching experience both from the input and the sharing of stories. We were delighted to welcome on Monday, Imelda Poole IBVM (Loreto), Albania; Marie Helene Halligon rbp, France; and Mary Patricia Mulhall csb, UK who had returned from the workshop in Rome, called by Pope Francis on ‘The Trafficking in Human Beings.’ We caught their energy, enthusiasm and inspiration when they gave input the following morning sharing a little of what they had experienced at this workshop and of their face to face meeting with Pope Francis. The message of HOPE was palpable. The Catholic Church is active in raising awareness of Human Trafficking but could be far more active given our global network as a Church. Pope Francis thankfully has voiced strong words to both legislators and to those criminals responsible for Human Trafficking. He is calling for people to see anti human trafficking efforts as prophetic ministry. So why should we care and be involved in this ministry? We care because human trafficking involves the most serious exploitation of human rights. It is the trade in and abuse of human beings by criminals to make money. Human trafficking threatens women men and children.
We were privileged to have Fr. Donal Dorr, member of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society, Theologian, active member of the Irish anti-trafficking group APT, and author of many books to lead us with input on the development of Catholic Social Teaching, followed by very engaging discussions. Donal in his own unique way took us through a brief historical outline of key issues in Catholic Social Teaching from 1891 up till now.
We recalled the familiar words of the Popes on Trafficking in Persons:
Pope John Paul II, 2002 said “Trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. Such situations are an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person”.
Pope Francis, Easter 2013 “Human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty first century” and again in May 2013 Pope Francis said “I affirm here that the ‘trade in people’ is a vile activity, a disgrace to our societies that clam to be civilized”.
Pope Francis was able to voice those strong words because of his own experience living alongside the poor and his listening to priests, sisters, brothers and lay leaders working on the margins of society. We were reminded that ‘prophetic ministry’ is about what we are doing on the ground – we live in the cracks of the institute; we experience the pain of those with whom we are working. “The official social teaching of the Church has its basis in the active prophetic ministry of people and movements on the ground. Theologians reflect on this ministry and express it in words. This feeds back to Church authorities and so leads on to official teaching” (Donal Dorr).
We looked at the prophets and ‘life energy’ in the Old Testament Jer 19:10, Ezek 24:3-6; Ezek 37;1-10; how harsh words of condemnation eventually bring comfort and hope to the people, especially the poor; “for to condemn those who are engaged in exploitation is to bring solace to those who are their victims” (Donal Dorr). We then reflected on Jesus and like the prophets in the Old Testament he challenged the civil and religious authorities of his country. He brought compassion, comfort and ‘Good News’ to those who were sick, disabled, economic migrants or political refugees, women engaged in prostitution and those despised and outcast. He performed miracles, and lived and walked among the poor. In other words he echoed or lived what he was preaching – he followed the prophetic way. He brought great hope to those who were downcast or poor.
We too are asked to bring that same Good News, which will comfort and bring hope to victims of abuse today. Many followers of Jesus down to this present day have felt themselves called to continue this prophetic tradition. “The call is one of inspiring the community to transform society, bringing new life, hope and energy; ensuring that governments and society live by the values of special concern of the poor, as well as justice and reconciliation. As Christians, we believe all of us have been given a share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus. We are called to be prophets”. RENATE and other networks working to bring about an end to this dreadful crime of human trafficking could be named among the prophets.
Donal emphasised the need for us as Christians to develop a spirituality centred on human rights as this touches people’s hearts today. Love and anger are two sides of the same coin – if we have compassion for those who are abused then we have a right to be angry/outraged about Human Trafficking. We recalled examples such as:
- Boy soldiers in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo who were taught and encouraged to us random rape as an instrument of war.
- Rachel Moran’s book ‘Paid For’ leaves us in no doubt that prostitution is ‘rape’.
- Participants own experience of women who are trafficked – they are often beaten, raped, threatened with targeting of their families if they do not comply to the demands made by clients.
‘Respect for Human Dignity’ is key to Human Rights. What we mean by respect varies in different cultures. This initiated much discussion and by the end of the week participants asked to have a training on how to effect cultural change in source and destination countries. This request no doubt will be taken up by the Working Board of RENATE.
Fr. Milan Bubák took us through a journey of See – Judge – Act Process, a social analysis method he used for writing a booklet on human trafficking. He explained the stages of his work on this subject, at the time when he served as the Coordinator for Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation, for his congregation in Rome. It was very helpful and encouraging especially to these who are new workers in the field.
Fr. Milan made us thinking on all the aspects of two days lectures and discussion on Catholic Social Teaching by integrating questions for personal reflection:
- Theological reflection is “the faith seeing connections”, or “the capacity to see behind the things of the everyday life”.
- Where do you see God present in the fate of the trafficked people?
- What sustains your faith in the context of your work with the victims of trafficking?
- What is the fire in you that sustains your passion for this ministry (even in times of distress and discouragement)?
The fact that the venue was in Eastern Europe gave the conference a very particular context. Two Religious Sisters from the Slovakian Conference of Religious, Sr. Justína Kostúrová OP, Sr. Ivica Kúšiková SspS gave a presentation on the horrendous torture experienced by Sisters under the communist regime. We were left spellbound, horrified and full of compassion. Sr. Bohdana Bezáková, our host, gave us an insight of her work in anti-trafficking in Slovakia. She is assigned to this task by the Slovakian Conference of Religious. We had a chance to see some results of her hard work during our visit to one of the shelters.
On our final day Imelda Poole and Ivonne van de Kar introduced us to the concept of ‘The Spirituality of Fundraising’ and led the group through a basic dynamic for preparing the documents for fundraising. The focus for the latter was on the goals and objectives for a given project and the budget. It was a dynamic which led the participants to work in groups and support each other in project development. The energy in the group was tangible and it was moving to see East and West Europe coming together in this work. The focus for the topic, ‘The Spirituality of Fundraising’ was based on a book written by Henri Nouwen called ‘The Spirituality of Fundraising’. The themes ranged from the call to conversion for both the donator and the one applying for funding as all are called to be engaged in this work for justice in the mission which is all part of God’s work in the birthing of the kingdom of God in today’s world. It is a call to humility, to ethical behaviour, truth and transparency. It is a call to networking and working in community for a common goal and objectives leading to a greater good.
Time together as East, West and Central European representatives working in the field of anti- trafficking was time well spent. We valued Donal’s own words to conclude our efforts.
We are called to have: “respect for human dignity
compassion, reverence, tenderness, empowerment,
a sense of solidarity with humans and with the rest of creation
concern for the common good and the right to participate in decision-making”.
The killings continue, each second
pain and misfortune extend themselves
in the genetic chain, injustice is done knowingly, and the air
bears the dust of decayed hopes,
yet breathing those fumes, walking the thronged
pavements among crippled lives, jackhammers
raging, a parking lot painfully agleam
in the May sun, I have seen
not behind but within, within the
dull grief, blown grit, hideous
concrete facades, another grief, a gleam
as of dew, an abode of mercy,
have heard not behind but within noise
a humming that drifted into a quiet smile.
Nothing was changed, all was revealed otherwise;
not that horror was not, not that killings did not continue,
but that as if transparent all disclosed
an otherness that was blessed, that was bliss.
I saw Paradise in the dust of the street.
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