Pause for Thought on Radio 2, given on 7 February 2017.
A few weeks ago, I was invited out to dinner by a small group of women, living together in London, but coming from seven different countries. They provided food that was varied and delicious, as each had contributed to the meal from their own traditional cuisine.
I was their guest, but they too were guests, welcomed into the house as victims of human trafficking. They were gracious and joyful. But their eyes were also full of pain and sadness. They thanked me for all that they were receiving, saying: 'you saved our lives. When we didn't have any hope and reason to live, we came to this house and here we got our new family.’
The house is named after a Catholic woman, Josephine Bakhita, now the patron saint of modern day slaves. She herself was a slave, snatched from her family, in the Sudan, in 1877, at the age of 9, and spending the next 11 years in slavery, bought and sold five times and treated with the utmost cruelty. By the time she won her freedom, she had over 114 patterns of deep scars in her flesh.
Born into a pagan family, she eventually became a Christian and joined a religious order of Catholic nuns. For forty-five years she lived that life with joy and in dedicated service of the poor. Often she suffered flashbacks to her time of torture, but she died in peace and true hope in 1947.
Tomorrow is her feast day, observed around the world as a day of prayer for victims of human trafficking. It is sobering to think that 200 years after slavery was abolished by law, it is the second most lucrative crime in the world.
One special story about St Josephine: Once she was asked what she would do if she met those who kidnapped and tortured her. She replied: 'If I were to meet them, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For if these things had not happened to me, I would not have become a Christian and a religious sister. I would never have come to know Christ my Lord.'
A fine patron saint indeed!