By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Talitha Kum in Africa: Women Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery was the theme of a panel discussion hosted by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) on Monday morning in Rome. Sr Gabriella Bottani, International Coordinator of Talitha Kum, was joined by Dr Flaminia Vola, of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, and by the Ambassadors of Ireland and Great Britain to the Holy See.
For the millions who are trapped in human trafficking and modern forms of slavery, we are reminded of a modern form of waiting as the season of Advent begins. Thus was the panel discussion introduced by Sr Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, the Vice President of the UISG. Talitha Kum, a network of 22 networks of women religious in 76 countries is making a difference, she said. These Sisters offer the Advent spirit of hope – the hope of liberation to the victims of human trafficking and slavery. The Middle East and Africa are two areas of the world in which Talitha Kum concentrates the majority of its efforts.
The Holy See
Representing the Holy See, Dr Flaminia Vola gave an outline of pastoral guidelines currently in development within the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. She highlighted Pope Francis’ commitment to human trafficking, especially its connection with organized crime. It is not only a crime, she said, it is also a grave sin, one which exploits the human person and strips him or her of identity. To eliminate trafficking, society must change because it exists due to a market responding to consumer demand. Dr Vola continued saying there is a reluctance to recognize the phenomenon. This goes hand in hand with a general ignorance regarding its nature and how vast it is. Lastly, she noted that collaboration among national and international organizations is necessary to bring human trafficking to an end.
Trafficking in Sub Saharan Africa
Sr Gabriella Bottani, has been the International Coordinator of Talitha Kum for 4 years. She spent the month of November visiting various Talitha Kum networks in Cameroon and Burkino Faso. There she learned firsthand from the sisters about their efforts helping victims of various forms of trafficking: forced labor (manual and domestic), sexual exploitation, forced marriage, child soldiers, forced begging and organ removal. She said that Sisters are working directly with victims who want to return home once they have been released from traffickers in Libya. Many of them, she said, still bear the wounds from the torture they endured. The benefit Talitha Kum offers is that it operates as a network with sisters familiar with how things operate at the local level. Talitha Kum’s priorities focus on education, professional training (which includes scholarships for survivors of trafficking), social reintegration (including shelter), and networking with other governmental, public and religious organizations.
Praise for Talitha Kum from the international community
Ireland’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Derek Hannon, said that Talitha’s Kum work is “excellent” and “largely unsung”. He said it is necessary to “bring to public attention this vital and occasionally dangerous work”, one which he said the Irish government supports both morally and financially (€ 38,000 since 2016). Mr Hannon also stated that “only through collaboration at international, regional, bi-lateral, and national levels will progress be made in combatting human trafficking, something that Talitha Kum has long understood”.
Sally Axworthy, Great Britain’s Ambassador to the Holy See, is grateful to Pope Francis who, she said, keeps the issue of human trafficking “on the front pages”. She too praised the work of the Sisters, especially in their work of providing care and reintegration to victims. “We know that they do that in a very different way, in a way that as governments we can’t do. And we pay tribute to that. It’s difficult work and we know that you do it very well.” The Ambassador ended her presentation saying that since the issue is a global one, the Catholic Church has a global presence particularly suitable to “reach people in a way that governments really can’t”. The British government has contributed € 53,000 to the UISG in 2018 for leadership training programs in Africa and research into trafficking routes.