Given at Mass on the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita in Westminster Cathedral
Today around the world is observed as a world day of prayer and awareness for the victims of human trafficking. We know in our prayer here we are joining people throughout the world, and wish and pray for an end to this scourge of humanity, human trafficking, spoken of by Pope Francis as a wound in the flesh of humanity. We have to face the fact that there are probably 50 million people enslaved at this moment. This is a battle a long way from being won.
As vulnerability around the world increases with conflict, with hunger, with the mobility of people, so too the risks of human trafficking rise.
Many people contribute to this effort. The Santa Marta Group has its priority this year of looking to states to honour the undertakings they have given in this battle.
It is the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita. I think her story is well-known: from being a young girl in Sudan, being taken into slavery and tortured, to becoming a sister, a member of a religious order. When we look at her life we see the characteristics of service and of forgiveness too. The Gospel we have heard of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who was considered by the people around Jesus to be unwanted and an outcast, speaks to us very vividly of those who have been enslaved and the damage that has been done to them. And so like the Syro-Phoenician woman, we come asking in prayer for help for every single person on the road from that trauma, on the road to recovery.
And here we thank God in particular for the work of Bakhita House in this diocese. Over the last eight years, it has welcomed and helped nearly 200 women recovering from that trauma. They’ve come from 49 countries; 14 babies have been born. It is a family that extends and extends its love and compassion. As a result of those who have come through Bakhita House, prison sentences of 188 years have been imposed on traffickers. The work of the house is sustained by many, many volunteers: 2,000 hours of volunteers’ help in 2023 alone. We give thanks for that work.
There’s another cause of our prayer today, for the country of St Josephine Bakhita, for Sudan, which we hear in the news today is even more radically wrecked by war. Nine million displaced, 25 million people in need of assistance in that country alone.
Let us pray:
Loving God, you are present in the whole universe and in all of your creatures. We pray for the victims of human trafficking, their families. We pray for all those affected by wars and conflict, and for all those who work tirelessly to rescue and support them. We ask for the grace of healing, protection and liberation from the chains of violence and exploitation for each trafficked person, and for victims of wars and conflicts everywhere. We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord. Amen.