Celebrating Mass at Westminster Cathedral for the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, 8th February 2021, Cardinal Vincent warned in his homily that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an order of people in distress, poverty, isolation and anxiety, something that ruthless traffickers are quick to exploit.
'This creates vast new reservoirs of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking and is the focus of our prayer and concern on this feast day of St Josephine Bakhita.
'The organised criminal networks, which profit ruthlessly through the sale of our brothers and sisters as slaves and no more than commodities to be exploited, are taking full advantage of this chaos: over 40 million trapped today in modern slavery. It is pitiable: a terrible wound in the flesh of humanity, indeed in the body of Christ.'
He prayed for 'every single person entrapped in enforced labour and slavery'; he thanked all who work 'to free and serve them'.
'Today we speak out for all those trapped in slavery and in the processes of recovery; for a greater responsiveness by our Government through its national referral mechanism and refugee appeal systems, in clear need of renewal and resources; for renewed endeavour by police forces to trace, halt and prosecute traffickers. Today we follow in the steps of St Josephine, putting our hands into the hands of the Lord where we are strengthened and renewed, from where we too can speak of our delight in his company and of our determination to serve his people.'
Earlier in the day, the Cardinal 'warmly welcomed' the launch of a research centre at St Mary’s University to respond to the growing scale of human trafficking and slavery in the UK and across the globe.
Originally established in 2015, the re-launched Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse aims to be a ‘flagship’ research centre to feed into anti-slavery and human trafficking policy at the highest level, in the UK and internationally, to contribute to education and awareness raising.
In his opening remarks at the centre’s re-launch, the Cardinal, Chancellor of St Mary’s University, drew attention to two of the great challenges facing the world today: the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of environmental change:
'Both serve to increase exponentially the scourge of human trafficking. The spread of poverty and instability is being utilised by the international criminal networks pushing forward modern slavery.
'Levels of basic hunger are widespread; people living without a basic income; millions left jobless: all lead to a profound vulnerability open to the most terrible exploitation.