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Pape François: Face à la traite des personnes, l’Église est la dernière ancre du salut — The Church is the last anchor of salvation for Human Trafficking

Pape François: Face à la traite des personnes, l’Église est la dernière ancre du salut — The Church is the last anchor of salvation for Human Trafficking
Audi­ence with the par­tic­i­pants in the Inter­na­tion­al Day of Prayer and Aware­ness Against Human Traf­fick­ing, 12.02.2018

At 12.15 today, in the Clemen­tine Hall of the Apos­tolic Palace, the Holy Father received in audi­ence the par­tic­i­pants in the Inter­na­tion­al Day of Prayer and Aware­ness Against Human Trafficking.

The fol­low­ing is the text in the form of ques­tions from some atten­dees, and answers from the Pope:


Ques­tions and answers of the Holy Father

1. Mon­day Joy [in English]

Holy Father, first of all we would like to thank you for your con­stant and benev­o­lent atten­tion and con­cern for all migrants and vic­tims of traf­fick­ing. We have expe­ri­enced many dif­fi­cul­ties and suf­fer­ings before arriv­ing in Italy. After arriv­ing in Italy, we strug­gle to inte­grate, and find­ing a decent job is almost impos­si­ble. I would like to ask you a ques­tion: do you think that the sur­pris­ing silence on the vicis­si­tudes of traf­fick­ing is due to igno­rance of the phenomenon?

Holy Father:

Cer­tain­ly on the top­ic of traf­fick­ing there is a lot of igno­rance. But some­times it seems there is also lit­tle will­ing­ness to under­stand the extent of the prob­lem. Because? Because it touch­es our con­sciences close­ly, because it is scabrous, because it makes us ashamed. Then there are those who, despite know­ing about it, do not want to talk about it because he is at the end of the “con­sump­tion chain”, as a user of the “ser­vices” offered on the street or on the inter­net. Final­ly, there are those who do not want to talk about it as they are direct­ly involved in the crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions that derive their prof­its from the traf­fick­ing. Yes, it takes courage and hon­esty, “when, in our dai­ly lives, we meet or deal with per­sons who could be vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing, or when we are tempt­ed to select items which may well have been pro­duced by exploit­ing oth­ers”.[1]

The work of sen­si­ti­za­tion must start from home, from our­selves, because only then will we be able to raise aware­ness in our com­mu­ni­ties, stim­u­lat­ing them to make efforts to ensure that no human being may be a vic­tim of trafficking.

For young peo­ple this seems to be an eas­i­er task, since they are less struc­tured in thought, less obscured by prej­u­dices, freer to rea­son with their own heads. The voice of young peo­ple, more enthu­si­as­tic and spon­ta­neous, can break the silence to denounce the nefar­i­ous­ness of the traf­fick­ing and pro­pose con­crete solu­tions. Adults who are ready to lis­ten can be of great help.

For my part, as you have not­ed, I have nev­er lost an oppor­tu­ni­ty to open­ly denounce traf­fick­ing as a crime against human­i­ty. It is “a true form of slav­ery, unfor­tu­nate­ly more and more wide­spread, which con­cerns every coun­try, even the most devel­oped. It is a real­i­ty which affects the most vul­ner­a­ble in soci­ety: women of all ages, chil­dren, the hand­i­capped, the poor­est, and those who come from bro­ken fam­i­lies and from dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions in soci­ety”.[2]

I also said that “What is called for, then, is a shared sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and firmer polit­i­cal will to gain vic­to­ry on this front. Respon­si­bil­i­ty is required towards those who have fall­en vic­tim to traf­fick­ing in order to pro­tect their rights, to guar­an­tee their safe­ty and that of their fam­i­lies, and to pre­vent the cor­rupt and crim­i­nals from escap­ing jus­tice and hav­ing the last word over the lives of oth­ers”.[3]

2. Miglior­i­ni, Sil­via [High School in Via Dal­mazia, Rome]

Holy Father, many of us young peo­ple want a bet­ter under­stand­ing of traf­fick­ing, migra­tion and their caus­es. Yes, we want to com­mit our­selves to mak­ing this world more just. We would like to address issues such as this with the youth of our soci­ety, also using social net­works, giv­en their con­sid­er­able poten­tial for com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Dear Pope Fran­cis, in parish groups, in youth move­ments, and in Catholic edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions, some­times there are not ade­quate and suf­fi­cient spaces to deal with these issues. Fur­ther­more, it would be good to orga­nize activ­i­ties to pro­mote social and cul­tur­al inte­gra­tion with those who are vic­tims of traf­fick­ing, to make it eas­i­er for them to over­come their tragedy and rebuild their lives. What can we young peo­ple do? What can the Church do?

Holy Father:

Young peo­ple occu­py a priv­i­leged posi­tion for meet­ing the sur­vivors of human traf­fick­ing. Go to your parish­es, to an asso­ci­a­tion near your home, meet peo­ple, lis­ten to them. From there, a response and a con­crete com­mit­ment on your part will grow. I see the risk of this becom­ing an abstract prob­lem, but it is not abstract. There are signs that you can learn to “read”, which tell you: here there could be a vic­tim of traf­fick­ing, a slave. We need to pro­mote the cul­ture of encounter that always brings with it an unex­pect­ed rich­ness and great sur­pris­es. Saint Paul gives us an exam­ple: in Christ, the slave Ones­imus is no longer a slave but much more, he is a very dear broth­er (cf. Phile­mon 1: 16).

You, the young you can find hope in Christ, and you can also meet Him in migrant peo­ple who have fled their homes and remain trapped in the nets. Do not be afraid to meet them. Open your heart, let them in, be ready to change. The meet­ing with the oth­er nat­u­ral­ly leads to a change, but we must not be afraid of this change. It will always be for the best. Remem­ber the words of the prophet Isa­iah: “Enlarge the place of your tent” (cf. 54: 2).

The Church must pro­mote and cre­ate meet­ing spaces, for this rea­son I have asked parish­es to be open and to wel­come. We must acknowl­edge the great effort made in response to my appeal, thank you! I ask you here today to work to pro­mote of open­ness to the oth­er, espe­cial­ly when he is wound­ed in his own dig­ni­ty. Be pro­mot­ers of ini­tia­tives that your parish­es can host. Help the Church to cre­ate spaces for shar­ing expe­ri­ences and inte­grat­ing faith and life.

The social net­works also rep­re­sent, espe­cial­ly for the young, an oppor­tu­ni­ty for encounter that can seem end­less: the inter­net can offer more oppor­tu­ni­ties for meet­ing and sol­i­dar­i­ty among all, and this is a good thing, it is a gift from God. How­ev­er, for every tool that is offered to us, what man decides to make of it is fun­da­men­tal. The com­mu­nica­tive envi­ron­ment can help us to grow or, on the con­trary, can dis­ori­ent us. The risk inher­ent in some of these vir­tu­al spaces must not be under­es­ti­mat­ed; through the net many young peo­ple are enticed and dragged into a slav­ery from which it is beyond their abil­i­ty to free them­selves. In this con­text, adults, par­ents and edu­ca­tors – even the slight­ly old­er broth­ers and com­pan­ions – are called to super­vise and pro­tect chil­dren. You must do the same with your rel­a­tives and com­pan­ions, to per­ceive and report par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, sus­pi­cious cas­es on which we must shed light.

So, use the inter­net to share a pos­i­tive sto­ry of your expe­ri­ences of meet­ing with our broth­ers in the world, to recount and share good prac­tices, and to trig­ger a vir­tu­ous circle.

3. Out­u­ru, Faith [in English]

Holy Father, I am one of the many young peo­ple from a dis­tant coun­try, with dif­fer­ent cul­tures, with dif­fer­ent liv­ing con­di­tions and expe­ri­ences of the Church. Now I am here and I want to build my future here. But I think of my coun­try, of so many young peo­ple who are deceived with false promis­es, deceived, enslaved, pros­ti­tut­ed. How can we help these young peo­ple not to fall into the trap of illu­sions and into the hands of traffickers?

Holy Father:

As you said, we must ensure that young peo­ple do not fall “into the hands of traf­fick­ers”. And how hor­ri­ble it is to real­ize that many of the young vic­tims were first aban­doned by their fam­i­lies, con­sid­ered as waste by their soci­ety! Many were then led to traf­fick­ing by their own rel­a­tives and so-called friends. It also hap­pened in the Bible: remem­ber that the old­er broth­ers sold the young Joseph as a slave, and so he was tak­en into slav­ery in Egypt!

Even in con­di­tions of extreme hard­ship, edu­ca­tion is impor­tant. It is a tool to pro­tect against traf­fick­ing, in fact it helps to iden­ti­fy dan­gers and avoid illu­sions. A healthy school envi­ron­ment, like a healthy parish envi­ron­ment, allows young peo­ple to denounce traf­fick­ers with­out shame and to become bear­ers of the right mes­sages for oth­er young peo­ple, so that they do not end up in the same trap.

All those who have been vic­tims of traf­fick­ing are an inex­haustible source of sup­port for new vic­tims and are impor­tant infor­ma­tive resources to save many oth­er young peo­ple. It is often false news, received by word of mouth or fil­tered by social media, which traps the inno­cent. Young peo­ple who have encoun­tered orga­nized crime can play a key role in describ­ing the dan­gers. Traf­fick­ers are often unscrupu­lous peo­ple, with­out morals or ethics, who live on the mis­for­tunes of oth­ers, tak­ing advan­tage of human emo­tions and despair to sub­ju­gate peo­ple to their will, mak­ing them slaves and suc­cu­bi. Just think how many young African women arrive on our shores hop­ing to start a bet­ter life, think­ing of earn­ing a liv­ing hon­est­ly, and are instead enslaved, forced to pros­ti­tute themselves.

It is essen­tial for young peo­ple to con­struct their own iden­ti­ty step by step, and to have a point of ref­er­ence, a guid­ing light. The Church has always sought to be beside those who suf­fer, espe­cial­ly chil­dren and young peo­ple, pro­tect­ing them and pro­mot­ing their inte­gral human devel­op­ment. Minors are often “invis­i­ble”, sub­ject to dan­gers and threats, alone and eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed; we want, even in the most pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tions, to be your bea­con of hope and sup­port, because God is always with you.

Courage and hope are gifts of all, but they are par­tic­u­lar­ly suit­ed to the young: courage and hope. The future is cer­tain­ly in the hands of God, the hands of a prov­i­dent Father. This does not mean deny­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and prob­lems, but see­ing them, yes, as pro­vi­sion­al and sur­mount­able. Dif­fi­cul­ties, crises, with the help of God and the good will of all, can be over­come, con­quered, and trans­formed.[4]

4. Rossi, Anto­nio Maria [High school in Via Dal­mazia, Rome]

Holy Father, we young Ital­ians are faced with a con­text increas­ing­ly char­ac­ter­ized by a plu­ral­i­ty of cul­tures and reli­gions. It is an open chal­lenge. Often the lack of respect for diver­si­ty, the cul­ture of waste and cor­rup­tion from which traf­fick­ing orig­i­nates, seem nor­mal. Pope Fran­cis, please con­tin­ue to encour­age our rulers to com­bat cor­rup­tion, arms sales and the throw­away cul­ture; and encour­age all reli­gious lead­ers to guar­an­tee spaces where dif­fer­ent cul­tures and reli­gions can know each oth­er and mutu­al­ly val­ue each oth­er, so that all share the same spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of accep­tance. I would like to ask you, Holy Father: what can we do here, so that the scourge of traf­fick­ing may dis­ap­pear definitively?

Holy Father:

When coun­tries are prey to extreme pover­ty, vio­lence and cor­rup­tion, then the econ­o­my, the reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work and basic infra­struc­ture are inef­fi­cient and fail to guar­an­tee secu­ri­ty, goods and essen­tial rights. In these con­texts, the per­pe­tra­tors of these crimes act with impuni­ty. Orga­nized crime and the ille­gal traf­fick­ing of drugs and human beings choose their prey among the peo­ple who today have scarce liveli­hoods and even less hope for tomorrow.

The answer, there­fore, is to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for inte­gral human devel­op­ment, start­ing with qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion from ear­ly child­hood, sub­se­quent­ly cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth through employ­ment. These two modes of growth, at dif­fer­ent stages of life, rep­re­sent the anti­dotes to vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and trafficking.

What I have repeat­ed­ly referred to as the “throw­away cul­ture” is the basis of behav­iours that, in the mar­ket and in the glob­al­ized world, lead to the exploita­tion of human beings at all lev­els. Pover­ty, needs, and the tragedies of many peo­ple end up becom­ing nor­mal­i­ty.[5]

Some states pro­mote, with­in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, a par­tic­u­lar­ly harsh pol­i­cy in want­i­ng to defeat human traf­fick­ing; this atti­tude is in itself mis­lead­ing because, due to the eco­nom­ic inter­ests behind it, they do not wish to tack­le the root caus­es. Fur­ther­more, the posi­tion at inter­na­tion­al lev­el is not always con­sis­tent with domes­tic poli­cies. I real­ly hope you can send a mes­sage to lead­ers at every lev­el of gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and soci­ety, ask­ing for access to qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion and thus to just and sus­tain­able employment.

A strat­e­gy that includes a greater knowl­edge of the top­ic of traf­fick­ing, start­ing from a clear ter­mi­nol­o­gy and con­crete tes­ti­monies from pro­tag­o­nists, can cer­tain­ly help. The real aware­ness on the sub­ject, how­ev­er, pays atten­tion to the “demand for traf­fick­ing” that lies behind the sup­ply (chain of con­sump­tion); we are all called reject hypocrisy and face the idea of being part of the prob­lem rather than turn­ing the oth­er way, pro­claim­ing our innocence.

Let me tell you, if there are so many girls who are vic­tims of traf­fick­ing who end up on the streets of our cities, it is because many men here – young, mid­dle-aged, elder­ly – require these ser­vices and are will­ing to pay for their plea­sure. I won­der then, are traf­fick­ers real­ly the main cause of traf­fick­ing? I believe that the main cause is the unscrupu­lous self­ish­ness of so many hyp­o­crit­i­cal peo­ple of our world. Of course, arrest­ing the traf­fick­ers is a duty of jus­tice. But the real solu­tion is the con­ver­sion of hearts, the elim­i­na­tion of demand so as to dry up the market.

5. Savi­ni, Maria Magdalene

Pope Fran­cis, in your mes­sage addressed to the may­ors of large cities gath­ered at the Vat­i­can, you said that “to be tru­ly effec­tive, the com­mon com­mit­ment to the con­struc­tion of an eco­log­i­cal con­science and to com­bat­ing mod­ern slav­ery – traf­fick­ing in human beings and organs, pros­ti­tu­tion, ille­gal labour – must start from the periph­eries”.[6] We young peo­ple often find our­selves in the periph­ery and suf­fer exclu­sion, inse­cu­ri­ty for not hav­ing employ­ment or access to qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, liv­ing in sit­u­a­tions of war, vio­lence, being forced to leave our lands, belong­ing to eth­nic and reli­gious minori­ties. Above all, we women are penal­ized and are the main vic­tims. What space will be giv­en in the Youth Syn­od to young women and men who come from the periph­eries of mar­gin­al­iza­tion caused by a now-out­dat­ed mod­el of devel­op­ment, which con­tin­ues to pro­duce human degra­da­tion? How can these girls and boys be the pro­tag­o­nists of change in soci­ety and in the Church?

Holy Father:

I hope, for those who are true wit­ness­es to the risks of traf­fick­ing in their coun­tries of ori­gin, that they may find in the Syn­od a place to express them­selves, from which to call the Church to action. There­fore, it is my great desire that young rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the “periph­eries” be pro­tag­o­nists of this Syn­od. I hope that they can see the Syn­od as a place to send a mes­sage to the rulers of the coun­tries of ori­gin and of arrival to request pro­tec­tion and sup­port. I hope that these young peo­ple will launch a glob­al mes­sage for a world youth mobi­liza­tion, to build togeth­er an inclu­sive and wel­com­ing com­mon home. I hope that they will be an exam­ple of hope for those who go through the exis­ten­tial dra­ma of despair.

The Catholic Church intends to inter­vene in every phase of traf­fick­ing in human beings: she wish­es to pro­tect them from decep­tion and entice­ment; to find them and free them when they are trans­port­ed and enslaved; to assist them once they are released. Often peo­ple who have been trapped and mis­treat­ed lose the abil­i­ty to trust oth­ers, and the Church often turns out to be the last anchor of salvation.

It is absolute­ly impor­tant to respond con­crete­ly to the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of those at risk, to then accom­pa­ny the lib­er­a­tion process, start­ing by sav­ing their lives. Church groups can open spaces of secu­ri­ty where nec­es­sary, in places of recruit­ment, on the traf­fick­ing routes and in the coun­tries of arrival. My hope is that the Syn­od may also be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for local Church­es to learn to work togeth­er and to become “a net­work of salvation”.

Final­ly I would like to con­clude by quot­ing Saint Josephine Bakhi­ta. This great Sudanese saint “is even today an exem­plary wit­ness of hope for the many vic­tims of slav­ery; she can sup­port the efforts of all those com­mit­ted to fight­ing against this “open wound on the body of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety, a scourge upon the body of Christ”.[7] May she inspire us to per­form acts of broth­er­hood with those who are in a state of sub­mis­sion. To let our­selves be chal­lenged, to let us invite to the encounter.

Let us pray:

Saint Josephine Bakhi­ta, as a child you were sold as a slave
and you had to face untold dif­fi­cul­ties and sufferings.
Once freed from your phys­i­cal slavery,
you found true redemp­tion in the encounter with Christ and His Church.
Saint Josephine Bakhi­ta, help all those
who are trapped in slavery.
In their name, inter­cede with the God of Mercy,
so that the chains of their cap­tiv­i­ty can be broken.
May God Him­self free all those who have been threatened,
injured or ill-treat­ed by traf­fick­ing and traf­fick­ing in human beings.
Bring relief to those who sur­vive this slavery
and teach them to see Jesus as a mod­el of faith and hope,
so that their wounds may heal.
We beg you to pray and inter­cede for us all:
so that we do not fall into indifference,
so that we open our eyes and can look
at the mis­eries and wounds of many broth­ers and sisters
deprived of their dig­ni­ty and their freedom
and lis­ten to their cry for help.



[1] Mes­sage for the XLVIII World Day of Peace 2015: “No longer slaves, but broth­ers and sis­ters”, 6.



[2] Address to a group of new ambas­sadors on the occa­sion of the pre­sen­ta­tion of their cre­den­tial let­ters, 12 Decem­ber 2013.



[3] Ibid.



[4] Address to young peo­ple in the dio­ce­ses of Abruz­zo and Molise, 5 July 2014.



[5] Cat­e­ch­esis, Gen­er­al Audi­ence of 5 June 2013.



[6] Address to par­tic­i­pants in the Work­shop “Mod­ern Slav­ery and cli­mate change: the com­mit­ment of the cities”, pro­mot­ed by the Pon­tif­i­cal Acad­e­mies of Sci­ence and Social Sci­ences, 21 July 2015.



[7] Mes­sage for the XLVIII World Day of Peace 2015: “No longer slaves, but broth­ers and sis­ters”, 6.








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