By John Waters
Pope Francis has sent a video message to the Forum on modern day slavery, which runs from 5th-8th May, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The event is being hosted by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, and co-sponsored by the Patriarch Athenagoras Institute in Berkely, California. The forum brings together experts from many different walks of life, such as scholars, policymakers, peacekeepers and theologians, in order to address the issue of modern day slavery and propose solutions to the problem. The forum is a continuation of the work begun by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, who is the leader of the Orthodox Churches, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The two church leaders convoked a similar conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2017.
Pope Francis’s message began with an illustration of the scale of the problem facing the participants. After listing some of the forms of slavery in today’s world, such as human trafficking, exploitation of workers through debt and sexual exploitation, the Pope presented a startling image to the participants.
“According to some recent statistics, there would be more than 40 million people, men, but especially women and children, who suffer slavery. Just to make us an idea we can think that if they lived in a single city, it would be the largest megalopolis on our planet and would have, more or less, four times the population of the entire urban area of Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires.”
Crime against humanity
Describing the practice of modern day slavery as a crime against humanity, Pope Francis called for the “Veil of indifference” to be broken. Namely for everyone to be made aware of the extent of the problem and the suffering it causes, whether they work within the criminal gangs themselves, or consume the commercial goods produced through slavery or make financial profits as a result of the practice.
The Pope also insisted that the key to solving the problem of slavery lies in addressing the root causes and improving the situations of countries where slavery is common-place.
“It is not enough that some States and International Organizations adopt a particularly harsh policy in order to punish the exploitation of human beings, if afterwards the causes are not addressed, the deepest roots of the problem. When countries suffer extreme poverty, suffer violence and corruption, neither the economy, nor the legislative framework nor the basic infrastructures are effective; they fail to guarantee security or assets or essential rights. In this way, it is easier for the perpetrators of these crimes to continue acting with total impunity.”
Need for integral human development
Pope Francis further re-enforced his point, stating that “organized crime and the illegal trafficking of human beings choose their victims among people who today have little means of subsistence and even less hope for the future. To be more clear: among the poorest, among the most neglected, the most discarded. The basic response lies in creating opportunities for integral human development, starting with a quality education: this is the key point, quality education from early childhood, to continue generating new opportunities for growth through employment. Education and employment.”
While reminding the participants of the forum that the work of ending modern day slavery will be long, requiring courage, patience and perseverance, the Pope also recommitted the Churches to helping in this work, calling the work of ending slavery a valuable aid for the construction of a renewed society oriented towards freedom.