Anne Powell, Cenacle Sisters
‘Let us not look the other way’ – Pope Francis
A formidable multi-billion-dollar human-trafficking industry has driven Catholic religious women to collaborate among themselves and with other social organisations to stop what Pope Francis has called ‘the most extensive form of slavery of the 21st century’.
One of Francis pontificate’s core commitments is to eradicate human trafficking. He reminds us, in the light of the Good Samaritan, not to look the other way.
‘For this reason I urgently appeal to all men and women of good will, and all those near or far, including the highest levels of civil institutions, who witness the scourge of contemporary slavery, not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity. Instead, may we have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ, revealed in the faces of those countless persons whom he calls “the least of these my brethren” (Mt 25:40, 45).’ – Pope Francis, 8 December 2014.
A New Zealand branch of religious women against human trafficking – Aotearoa New Zealand Religious Against the Trafficking of Humans (ANZRATH) – began at the end of 2012 after two members of the Australian group of religious against trafficking of humans, visited Auckland to share their work and aims with Auckland sisters.
A similar group was formed in Wellington in 2015, as an active response to the Year of Consecrated Life. The Wellington group’s focus is to raise awareness of and educate about trafficking and exploitation of people.
Where possible, we collaborate and network with similar groups locally, nationally and internationally. In May last year, we organised an evening presentation where Cardinal John Dew shared his insights gained, in particular, from his participation at the 2014 London Santa Marta Conference about trafficking.
Later in 2015 we organised a successful public, ecumenical gathering. Detective Senior Sergeant Liam Clinton spoke about his national role with New Zealand Police concerning human trafficking and exploitation. He advised, ‘New Zealand is both a source and destination country for trafficking and exploitation’. He said labour exploitation is a significant concern here and he described the threefold New Zealand plan of action – prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of traffickers and exploiters.
Our ANZRATH branch members come from most of the religious congregations in the Archdiocese, as well as committed lay people. Some of us are actively engaged in the group’s regular meetings and associated events, eg advocacy and practical support of migrant workers. Some of our elderly religious are dedicated to compassionate prayer for those who suffer trafficking and exploitation.
How you can help
• Read Pope Francis’ No Longer slaves but brothers and sisters.
• Lobby your MPs and ask them to become informed and involved. Look at vineyards, orchards, fishing industry, nail bars, restaurants where there might be signs of exploitation (eg. passports and identity documents held, poor living accommodation, no holidays, low pay).
• Find out about Seasonal Workers’ legislation (www.dol.govt.nz).
• Get involved with an anti-trafficking organisation.