Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace Message for 2015, No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters,focuses on slavery today and the need for solidarity.
Relationships & God’s Plan for Us
Pope Francis places the social, or relational, nature of human beings at the centre of God’s plan for us. He uses the term ‘fraternity’ to explain how our conversion to Christ makes us aware that we are sisters and brothers to one another, one human family. While this family relationship comes from having the same origin, nature and dignity, it also embraces the variety and differences among us. Francis says that “since we are by nature relational beings, meant to find fulfillment through interpersonal relationships inspired by justice and love, it is fundamental for our human development that our dignity, freedom and autonomy be acknowledged and respected.” (n 1) When we reject the communion that God intends among us, inequality and subjugation mark our relationships. Francis juxtaposes fraternity and slavery, and goes on to reflect on slavery today.
Pope Francis says that the fundamental cause of slavery is the rejection of another’s humanity:
“Whenever sin corrupts the human heart and distances us from our Creator and our neighbours, the latter are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects. Whether by coercion or deception, or by physical or psychological duress, human persons created in the image and likeness of God are deprived of their freedom, sold and reduced to being the property of others. They are treated as means to an end.” (n 4)
Corruption, criminal activity, armed conflicts and terrorism are also seen as key causes of slavery today, while poverty is seen as a major factor making people and communities vulnerable to such exploitation.
Among the modern forms of slavery that continue to deprive people of freedom today, Pope Francis highlights the situations of:
• labourers, including children, “in countries where labour regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights”
• migrants, who “experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse”, especially those “who, upon arriving at their destination after a gruelling journey marked by fear and insecurity, are detained in at times inhumane conditions”, and those “who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely” and “those who, in order to remain within the law, agree to disgraceful living and working conditions, especially in those cases where the laws of a nation create or permit a structural dependency of migrant workers on their employers, as, for example, when the legality of their residency is made dependent on their labour contract.”
• trafficked persons, “who are made objects … for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics, or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption.”
• those who are held captive by terrorist groups, “subjected to their purposes as combatants, or, above all in the case of young girls and women, to be used as sex slaves” many of whom “disappear, while others are sold several times over, tortured, mutilated or killed”.
• those who are forced into prostitution, marriage or sexual slavery, “those sold for arranged marriages and those bequeathed to relatives of their deceased husbands, without any right to give or withhold their consent.” (n 3)
Taking Action on Slavery
Pope Francis is saddened by the general indifference to these phenomena. He praises religious congregations, especially women’s religious congregations, for their “enormous and often silent” action over many years “in offering assistance to victims, in working for their psychological and educational rehabilitation, and in efforts to reintegrate them into the society where they live or from which they have come… This immense task, which calls for courage, patience and perseverance, deserves the appreciation of the whole Church and society.” (n 5)
Francis also points to the need for institutional commitment to prevention, victim protection, and the legal prosecution of perpetrators. He outlines the roles of states, intergovernmental organisations, businesses, and civil society, and makes a direct appeal to each one of us:
“Let us ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged 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. Some of us, out of indifference, or financial reasons, or because we are caught up in our daily concerns, close our eyes to this. Others, however, decide to do something about it, to join civic associations or to practice small, everyday gestures – which have so much merit! – such as offering a kind word, a greeting or a smile. These cost us nothing but they can offer hope, open doors, and change the life of another person who lives clandestinely; they can also change our own lives with respect to this reality.” (n 6)
“I pray especially that, on the basis of our common calling to cooperate with God and all people of good will for the advancement of harmony and peace in the world, we may resist the temptation to act in a manner unworthy of our humanity.” (Pope Francis, World Day of Prayer for Peace 2015, n 1) How am I tempted to act in a manner unworthy of my humanity? What about my community or country?
Saint Jospehine Bakhita was kidnaped from the Dafur region of Sudan and sold into slavery at the turn of the twentieth century. How is her life a sign of hope for survivors of slavery?
What is my response to Pope Francis’ challenge?
Read paragraph 6 of the Message. Do you agree with the actions Pope Francis asks of States, intergovernmental organisations, business and civil society?
Name the civil society organisations in your country that are active on these issues. How are you supporting their work?
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