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Given at the Papal Audience at the conclusion of the Santa Marta Group Conference on 19th May 2022

Most Holy Father, on behalf of the members of this meeting of the Santa Marta Group, it is my privilege to thank you for this gift of your time and attention. It is most precious to us.

We also want to thank you, with all our hearts, for the leadership you give to us all, to the entire Church, in this fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. We know that you summon the Church, and every society, to take up this fight. Your leadership is utterly invaluable and we thank you for all that you do.

It is four years since our last full meeting. These years have changed the world, with the pandemic, with the devastating effects of warfare, with climate change. These changes have increased the huge number of vulnerable people whom the evil traffickers exploit and destroy. In our discussions, we know that this battle is not being won, but we have heard how, since our last meeting, there is a great growth in awareness and organised response, in so many parts of the world, across so many communities in our societies.

In this meeting, we have come together from five continents. We include law enforcement leaders, lawyers, judges, health workers, lay and religious leaders. Together we appreciate the role of the Santa Marta Group, which is to be a catalyst, helping us all to act strategically, in international cooperation, for the ultimate eradication of human trafficking. We gather as a group whose members can and do make things happen. That is our great strength.

Holy Father, we wish to put before you the commitments we have agreed at our meeting.

We will work together to strengthen every effort at education in our communities, continually raising awareness of the reality of modern slavery, and increasing the capacity of all faith communities to work together against this abhorrent crime. In this we know we must counter the corrupting uses to which social media platforms are put. Within this priority is the need to defend children, strengthening their consciences and their awareness of danger.

We keep as our priority the needs of the victims of human trafficking and enforced labour, their immediate and long-term support. We shall press for greater government support and strive to ensure for them the best assistance possible.

We set as a priority efforts to break the financial model of this monstrous trade. We are resolved to cooperate in bringing about the confiscation of the profits made, the 'blood money' that enriches the criminal. We will work to effect the seizure of their assets and to open access to compensation, from those assets, for all their victims. These aims will require real and effective cooperation between civil law resources and those of the law enforcement agencies. We are committed to this.

We wish to challenge the world of business to recognise that only goods and profits which are truly ethical are acceptable to customers and investors alike.

We will continually draw attention to the many forms of modern slavery, including those hidden in supply chains, even in the supply chains used by the Church, and the slavery, which involves the wicked trade in human organs and body parts. It is a modern cannibalism.

Holy Father, our shared conviction is that this international network of evil can only be beaten by an international network of principled good intent and concerted action. Our resolve is to continue to build this network, rooting it in local actions and cooperation, for its strength is to be found in daily operations and the awareness these actions create locally. Our desire is to contribute to the establishing of a new moral compass in our societies, one oriented to the healing of this wound in the body of humanity and to the defence of human dignity. We know that every person can contribute to this effort so that modern slavery, in all its forms, becomes truly socially unacceptable.

Holy Father, we are proud to be making this modest contribution. The leadership among us is remarkable: in police forces, in laypeople, in the work of religious sisters, in Bishops' Conferences. Our commitment is strong. Today we entrust our efforts to the intercession of Our Blessed Lady and to the prayers of St Josephine Bakhita, our patron saint, and we ask your blessing and prayers for our efforts, just as we assure you, Holy Father, of our unfailing prayers for you and deepest affection, too.

Holy Father, thank you!

✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President, Santa Marta Group

Photo: Cardinal Vincent greets Pope Francis at the Santa Marta Conference, 2018 (Mazur/