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Nuns cry out for victims of human trafficking

“Moses said to the pharaoh, ‘Let my people go,’” said Sister of the Holy Family Greta Jupiter to open a prayerful vigil to end human trafficking held Jan. 11 at St. Rita Church in New Orleans.

  The event, coordinated by the various women religious congregations who comprise the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) Region V, which includes Louisiana, brought to light the slavery of today – human trafficking.
    A church full of religious and others at the vigil learned from Sister Greta Jupiter, LCWR Region V co-chair,  how human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, the fastest-growing industry in the world, second only to drug trafficking.
     Time was given for reflection in between a Bible verse from Luke about the poor and letting the oppressed go free and a passage about setting slaves free from the Emancipation Proclamation – a document signed by President Abraham Lincoln to end slavery 150 years ago. Statistics on human trafficking, and past and contemporary examples of survivors of human trafficking also were stated.
    At various times throughout the evening, the song “We Shall Overcome” – a song synonymous with the  African American civil rights movement – was sung.
    The story of St. Josephine Bakhita was read by Holy Family Sister Laura Mercier and Mount Carmel Sister Andree Bindewald. St. Josephine Bakhita is the unofficial patron saint of anti-trafficking efforts since she was sold into slavery – kidnapped from her home in Sudan – before she becoming a Canossian Sister and being canonized in 2000.
    Her name, Bakhita, means “fortunate one,” and her unfailing faith in God eventually set her free. On her deathbed, she relived in her memory her time in captivity and cried, “Loosen the chains ... they are heavy,” a phrase those attending the prayer service were asked to repeat after petitions were read about freeing those currently  held captive in human trafficking.
    “In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation,” read Sister Andree. “The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.”
Months of planning
    Sister of Mount Carmel Beth Fitzpatrick, LCWR Region V chairwoman, said months of collaboration between many local women religious went into coordinating the vigil  and other activities designed to thwart trafficking. The local religious knew they wanted to do something and sought advice from women religious in Indianapolis – the site of the 2012 Super Bowl – to get started and then brainstormed for local ideas.
    In addition to the vigil, local women religious and volunteers set faxes and delivered printed material to New Orleans hotels to help employees detect behavior that might indicate trafficking.
    “I’ve been impressed with the efforts hotels are making to be alert to this,” Sister Beth said.
    Prayer cards asking for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita were printed and made available to Catholic church parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and at the prayer vigil.
     Sister Beth emphasized that human trafficking is not only for sex, although it comprises the majority – 75 to 80 percent. Another aspect of trafficking is luring unsuspecting foreigners to the United States for the promise of good jobs at good wages only to end up as slaves to their employers doing hard work in tough conditions at low salary.
    Major events such as the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras provide a venue for the trafficking of “our sisters and brothers,” she said.
    “We could hold in our hearts those who are caught in human trafficking,” Sister Beth said. “Those caught in human trafficking in Louisiana are ‘Les Miserables’ of our time. They are abused and used and trapped. We don’t like to think this is going on in our country, but the statistics are there. Some are immigrants, but some of our own children.”
Get involved
    The religious and others who attended the prayer service were sent forth with suggestions on how they, too, could take action against human trafficking and were given a St. Bakhita prayer card and a wallet-size card with tips from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of Homeland Security.
    “We hope this is the beginning of a prayer watch as our city approaches the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras and beyond,” Sister Beth said. “Let us be vigilant.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion
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