Given at the Santa Marta Group Conference in Rome on 26 October 2016.
My dear friends,
I welcome you and thank you most sincerely for your presence and participation in this meeting. Many words of welcome and thanks have already been expressed and I do not need to repeat them, although they are strongly present in my heart.
One reason for this strength of feeling is that last Friday I went to Bakhita House, in London, which is the place of welcome we have established for victims of human trafficking. It has now been operating for one year. On Friday I had dinner with the eight guests at present in the house (although in the course of this first year 48 women have been welcomed, supported and then made personal progress). It was a wonderful occasion, consisting of a fine, international meal cooked by the women themselves and full of laughter and smiles. However, whenever a short silence fell, the faces of the women were suddenly full of the inner pain and sense of loss which is in their hearts.
These same guests had, just recently, spoken about their experience of being victims of human trafficking and of their welcome in Bakhita House. They wrote:
‘We lost touch with our souls. We had nowhere to turn. We had nowhere to go. At one point we thought it would be the end for us. We had no hope to hold on to. We thought we would break. We did not know our strength until we came to Bakhita House. We got through our pain, with the help of the most loving and dedicated staff and volunteers. They have helped us to survive. Our faith was revived and it kept us alive.’
I quote these words because they are at the heart of what we are trying to achieve: not just the rescuing of the victims of trafficking, but the building of trust so that they can reassemble their lives and live again. This is a great work in the face of a dreadful evil.
But the trust we are trying to build is not only with these victims. If we are to help them and defeat this appalling trade, then we have to be constantly building trust among ourselves, not just at this gathering, but in our day to day operations. That is not easy. Trust is built only step by step. It is constantly put to the test. It is never to be taken for granted.
What, then, are our objectives in trying to build trust within the Santa Marta Group in the fight against human trafficking and the service of the victims?
Here we come together to deepen our practical collaboration. This can only happen at the place of our activities and it is good to see in the reports we have received evidence that this cooperation is strengthening in many places. May I point out one thing that, above all else, corrodes trust: it is when, in practice, the word that has been given is not kept, often because those within our organisation do not see things as we do or act as we wish. There is corruption within some police forces, when a blind eye is turned to this crime. There is defensiveness within some places in the Church, which find it hard to see life from the point of view of the victim. And there are many other invested interests, in politics and business, that do not want to give priority to eradicating this scourge.
We come together here to enhance our accountability. Here we will speak honestly of what we have achieved and what we have not yet tackled. This too builds trust. A great sign of this mutual accountability will be the moment tomorrow when we have the opportunity of presenting to Pope Francis the reports of our work. At that moment, symbolically, we recognise – all of us – that we are accountable to a higher authority than that which our own separate structures embody.
We come together for other clear objectives, too: to strengthen the voice and determination of those involved in this struggle. We try to make that voice heard. So I am particularly grateful for the presence of Archbishop Ausa, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations and thank him for all the work of raising this voice at the UN. We are also striving to identify and work strategically in key regions and fields of industry. We want to facilitate education about the prevalence of modern slavery. We want to build up and sustain other people in this work. At this point I am glad to say that, with the help of a generous donor, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales are now able to draw in some more resources to back up and develop our service of this Santa Marta Group with three additional professional assistants. I am grateful for this generosity.
All these objectives, I believe, are there to serve this work and its essential task of building trust: a trust that can make our operations more effective and our service of the victims of human trafficking more liberating and rewarding.
So let us get on with our work.