On the 10th International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, held on February 8, 2024, the Holy Father Pope Francis urged people to take concrete actions to “combat this global scourge.”
“Let us help one another to be more responsive, to open our lives and hearts to our sisters and brothers who even now are being bought and sold as slaves. It is never too late to take action,” the pontiff said in a message published on February 8.
“Let us pray fervently and work proactively for this cause, the defense of human dignity, whether by prayer and action as individuals and families, or as parish and religious communities, as ecclesial associations and movements, and also in the various spheres of social and political life.”
Pope Francis’ comments came as Catholics from more than 50 countries across the world rallied together virtually as part of an online prayer marathon for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.
According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is estimated to be around a $150 billion industry that profits off of an estimated 49.6 million victims worldwide. There has been a 25% increase in the number of people experiencing modern slavery between 2016 and 2021, per the U.N. agency.
Ten years ago, Pope Francis established the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking to coincide with the February 8 feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking victims.
“Together let us walk in the footsteps of St. Bakhita, the religious sister from Sudan who as a child was sold into slavery and was a victim of traffickers. Let us remember the wrong she endured, her suffering, but at the same time her strength and her journey of liberation and rebirth to a new life,” the Pope said.
“St. Bakhita encourages us to open our eyes and ears to see those who go unseen and to hear those who have no voice, to acknowledge the dignity of each person and to fight trafficking and all forms of exploitation.”
St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan, in 1869. She was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders around 1877. During her time as a slave, Bakhita was beaten, tortured, and scarred.
Eventually, Bakhita was sold in 1883, 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 later left her with the Canossian Sisters in Venice when they traveled to Sudan for business.
“From my heart, I express my gratitude to everyone engaged in the celebration of this day, and I bless all those who are committed to combatting trafficking and all forms of exploitation in order to build a world of fraternity and peace,” the Holy Father said.
The online prayer marathon for the world day against human trafficking was coordinated by Talitha Kum, a network of more than 2,000 Catholic religious sisters who serve on the front lines of the fight against sex trafficking, helping survivors find true freedom and healing.