Pope Francis said on Tuesday that the suffering caused by human trafficking is “an open wound on the body of Christ.”
“Human trafficking is violence. The violence suffered by every woman and every girl is an open wound on the body of Christ, on the body of all humanity; it is a deep wound that affects every one of us too,” the pope said in a video message released on Feb. 8.
The pope condemned both the human trafficking of laborers and sex trafficking, which he said relegates women and girls to “dispensers of pleasure” and “proposes yet again a model of relationships marked by the power of the male gender over the female.”
“The organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly the fact that women have the same dignity and identical rights as men,” he said.
Pope Francis added that both men and women can and must fight to ensure that the dignity of every person is recognized with “special attention to those whose fundamental rights have been violated.”
The pope’s comments came as Catholics from 30 countries across the world rallied together virtually as part of an online prayer marathon for the International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits off of 25 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization.
Pope Francis established the International Day eight years ago to coincide with the Feb. 8 feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking victims.
“St. Bakhita shows us the way of transformation. Her life tells us that change is possible when one lets oneself be transformed by God’s care for each one of us. It is the care of mercy — it is the care of love that changes us deeply and makes us able to welcome others as brothers and sisters,” the pope said.
“Recognizing the dignity of each person is the first act of care, it is the first act of care. Recognizing dignity. And taking care of others is good for all, for those who give and those who receive, because it is not a unidirectional action, but rather it generates reciprocity.”
St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Sudan. Around 1877, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders. During her time as a slave, she was beaten, tortured, and scarred.
Eventually, in 1883, she was sold to the Italian vice-consul Callisto Legani, who took her with him back to Italy. While in Italy, she was given to a family and became their nanny, and that family eventually left her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice when they traveled to Sudan for business.
Once with the sisters, she learned about Christianity and decided to become Catholic. She refused to go back to the family that enslaved her once they returned to Italy, and an Italian court ruled that since slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before her birth, she was not legally a slave. She was then freed from slavery.
With her newfound freedom, Bakhita remained with the Canossians. She took the names Josephine Margaret and Fortunata, the Latin translation of her Arabic name, Bakhita. Three years later, she became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and professed her final vows on December 8, 1896.