The Catholic Register
September 17, 2023
Human Trafficking

Bishops’ trafficking pastoral letter gets action

It really is foundational and contains the basics every Christian Catholic should be aware of

Bishops’ trafficking pastoral letter gets action

From left, Sr. Nancy Brown, Gwendoline Allison and Evelyn Vollet are members of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. Brown calls the Canadian bishops pastoral letter on human trafficking a letter all should familiarize themselves with.

(Photo courtesy The B.C. Catholic)

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    Quinton Amundson
    The Catholic Register

Nearly every time the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) weighs in about current societal issues via a pastoral letter, it is an admitted struggle to inspire lay churchgoers to even peruse the publication.

The next step is even more daunting: stirring readers into taking meaningful action. 

“For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free,” released in November 2021, has apparently hit both seemingly tricky targets.

This pastoral letter about human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Canada was drafted by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace. Some of its intents include enlightening readers about how trafficking violates the social teachings of the Catholic Church, warning about the follies of decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution and sex work and harkening Canadians to open their eyes to the plights of the trafficked.

Sr. Nancy Brown, a long-time anti-trafficking advocate based in Vancouver, was enthused by the content of this document and quickly resolved to help it achieve consciousness among Canadian Catholics.

“When that bishop’s statement came out we were very excited and very happy,” said Brown, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. “But then we said, ‘you know what, it’s probably just going to sit on the website. What can we do to get the Catholic community even aware of the letter?’ It really is foundational and contains the basics that every Christian Catholic should be aware of.”

Brown joined forces with Evelyn Vollett and Barbra Renaud of the Vancouver archdiocese, Annette Turgeon of Victoria and Myron Rogal of Saskatoon to produce Working Towards Freedom, a four-section study guide based on the information and principles presented in “For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free.”

Working Towards Freedom was conceptualized foremost for parish or other community groups, although these modules can also be tackled individually. The guide aspires to help participants become more aware of the atrocities that could be happening in their vicinity and how Catholics are called to fight for the dignity of each child of God.

Each segment was formulated with a learning model of See, Learn, Pray, Act.

In the section, “What is Human Trafficking and the Social Teachings of The Catholic Church,” the “see (read)” assigns participants to review a file called Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking. The “learn” component asks Catholics to watch videos about Catholic social teaching from Fr. Fred Kramer, SJ, and American Bishop Robert Barron, and then ponder how these precepts are inherent within The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). The “pray” is Bible passages chronicling Jesus Christ teaching the beatitudes to His disciples. The “act” is a call to share the teachings of this unit with family and friends and inform children about the dangers of online trafficking and pornography.

Rogal, the coordinator of the Diocese of Saskatoon’s Office of Justice and Peace, said the Catholic social teaching dimension of the guide stands out as his favourite.

“It is such a great springboard for the many in our Church who have not heard of or have limited knowledge about Catholic social teaching,” said Rogal. “It is so important because it gives us that lens to see, specifically here, the challenges of human trafficking and sex trafficking. But it also hopefully enables people to start looking at the other contemporary social challenges in their families or communities and contemplate how Catholic social teaching can be an instrument to face many of those modern challenges.”

Each part appeals to different readers, said Rogal. Section two — “Who are buyers? Who are the prostituted persons?” — has garnered positive feedback because of an exercise that asks partakers to list the power imbalances between the buyers of sexual services and the individuals who are purchased. Age, level of education, economic stability, gender and educational opportunities are some of the demarcation lines between buyer and prostituted person that are scrutinized.

Meanwhile, those with legal knowledge will likely gravitate to section four of the guide, called “The Equality Law,” which highlights written and multimedia resources conveying why decriminalization and legalization of sex work must be opposed.

The life story of St. Josephine Bakhita, who endured trafficking for 12 years, preambles the four sections and an illustration of her graces the cover of Working Towards Freedom. A prayer of intercession to Bakhita, the patron saint of trafficking survivors, is included on this page on behalf of all who are trapped in trafficking and slavery.

“We have heard that people really want to connect with St. Bakhita’s story and want to recognize her on her feast day (of Feb. 8),” said Rogal. “Without St. Josephine Bakhita and her intercession — she has helped us out a lot along the way and has been an inspiration for this work as much as the bishop’s letter — I don’t think this project would have happened.”

Each bishopric that authored the guide has largely employed distinct, localized approaches in getting the resource noticed. However, a couple of crossover initiatives occurred in autumn 2022.

Brown travelled to Saskatoon to be the keynote speaker at Saskatoon’s diocesan fall congress last October. She introduced the guide at the summit, which was dubbed “a day of prayer, dialogue, study and action to end human trafficking.”

Just over a month later, on Nov. 26, Vancouver, Victoria and Saskatoon joined forces for an online launch of Working Towards Freedom.

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