DCCW to sponsor program on human trafficking

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Calling human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the Body of Christ,” Pope Francis pledged to focus on the phenomenon in his World Peace Day message slated for Jan. 1, 2015.

Human trafficking, which generates huge amounts of income for organized crime, also destroys the lives of millions of children, women and men every year, making it a real threat to peace, according to a Vatican statement released in March.

In response to the pope’s call to bring greater awareness of this injustice to light, the Fall River Diocesan Council of Catholic Women will be sponsoring an informational breakfast focusing on the issue of human trafficking on October 25 at 9:30 a.m. at the Wamsutta Club, 427 County Street in New Bedford.

Speakers will include Assistant District Attorney Silvia Rudman, Assistant District Attorney Lesly Leahy, and Father Marc Fallon, C.S.C., who has worked for the past decade with immigrants through Catholic Social Services in New Bedford and also serves the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate.

“The Church’s response to human trafficking, of course, focuses on migrant and refugee services,” Father Fallon told The Anchor. “In the world today, as Pope Francis has reminded us, sadly exploitation that only happened regionally before is also happening globally.”

According to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the pope’s New Year’s Day message will be entitled “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters,” and will address blights such as child labor, forced prostitution, trafficking for organs and a variety of forms of forced labor.

“Many people think that slavery is a thing of the past, but this social plague remains all too real in today’s world,” the statement read.

Father Fallon agreed that human trafficking is akin to slavery.

“It’s almost like a return to the colonial era, where the countries of the world in Europe and North America had more raw materials or resources than most developed countries and, sadly, the economic exploitation and sweatshops became commonplace,” Father Fallon said. “It seems some of these patterns are tragically following those of 150 years ago.”

Initially undertaken as a cause by the National Council of Catholic Women, the DCCW is likewise working at the local level to make people aware of “this important issue,” according to event chairman Theresa Lewis.

“Many people who are coming from other countries are being exploited and it’s nothing but selling these kids,” Lewis said. “As Catholic women we should be involved in getting this injustice out to the public. We want to get as many people to know about it as possible.”

“Certainly the Church is an international entity — the worldwide Body of Christ — and with 1.1 billion members we have a presence and we need to be aware of where there are weaknesses in some of the government structures and where (human) trafficking is an issue,” agreed Father Fallon.

To that end, Father Fallon said the Universal Church is working towards three goals in confronting and combating human trafficking: first, to identify the most vulnerable of victims; second, give attention to the children of victims; and, third, help these involuntary participants and provide advocacy for them.

“This will not only show the presence of the Church, but also help to develop programs for the survivors and victims,” Father Fallon said. “We know that Pope Francis recently traveled to the south of Italy to minister to and to document the African refugees who have arrived having paid exorbitant fees for a very dangerous crossing.”

In addition to the pope’s call to action, Father Fallon said the Vatican also partnered with interfaith representatives to establish the Global Freedom Network in March, whose primary goal is to eradicate human trafficking by the end of the decade.

“It seems that the Vatican is promoting the Global Freedom Network as an open association of various faith leaders who have joined together to combat (human trafficking),” he said. “Along with cooperation from the United Nations, the Global Freedom Network was launched by the Vatican and announced that they hope to confront the problem of human trafficking by 2020.”

Father Fallon said programs like the October 25 informational breakfast can serve as gentle reminders for those of us living here in the U.S. that things aren’t as free or comfortable in other parts of the world.

“There’s a tendency in the United States to assume that every democracy is nearly identical to what we experience here, with a strong judiciary — but many of the democracies in developing countries are quite weak,” he said. “And the recent news about unaccompanied minor children from Central America that we heard about this past spring and summer has only served to reinforce that.”

While Latin Americans are among the most often cited victims of human trafficking offenses, Father Fallon said he’s heard disturbing examples from other areas.

“In the Philippine Church, we hear stories of Filipino Catholics who are offered opportunities to work in the Middle East, and then the first sign of trouble is when they are asked to surrender their passports when they arrive in the new country and it becomes a situation of involuntary servitude,” he said.

Even more unsettling are cases of human trafficking that can be found closer to home.

“Most people may hear about it on TV and they think it’s happening in other areas and not here,” Lewis said. “But it is happening in our own diocese — in Taunton, in Fall River and in New Bedford. It is something that is going on in our own backyard.”

“I thought this was something that would be of interest to all, Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” she added. “We hope people will join us and help us to begin to end this modern-day slavery.”

For more information about the October 25 informational breakfast on human trafficking at New Bedford’s Wamsutta Club or to reserve tickets, contact:

— Attleboro Deanery: Rebecca at 508-761-4638;

— Cape Cod and the Islands Deanery: Jeanne at 508-540-3370;

— Fall River Deanery: Lynette at 508-674-7036 or Pauline at 508-678-6041;

— New Bedford Deanery: Terry at 508-993-5085 or Nancy at 508-995-1604; or

— Taunton Deanery: Fran at 508-824-5279.

Proceeds from the event will benefit future DCCW informational programs.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts