Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has addressed Pope Francis on behalf of the Santa Marta Group whose two-day meeting concludes today in Rome. Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns, represented the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at the meeting. An initiative of Pope Francis, the Santa Marta Group is an alliance of bishops and police chiefs from around the world, working with civil society, to prevent trafficking and modern day slavery.
In his address Cardinal Nichols renewed the Santa Marta Group’s commitment to fight the horrendous crime that is Human Trafficking. The cardinal also provided Pope Francis with reports of the progress that the Santa Marta Group has made over the last two years.
Cardinal Nichols said, “We recall with joy your presence, on the 10 April 2014, at the first meeting of this Santa Marta Group. On that day, with your encouragement, we gave our commitment to develop partnerships in order to bring to justice those responsible for the horrendous crime of human trafficking and to care for all its victims. You gave your forceful and personal endorsement to this commitment and you reminded us that human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society – a scourge on the body of Christ.”
The Santa Marta Group brings together senior law enforcement officers, government ministers, religious sisters, bishops, priests and representatives of other organisations from 30 different countries. Cardinal Nichols said that the entire group gathered today in the presence of Pope Francis renewed their commitment “to fight consistently and systematically against human trafficking.”
Cardinal Nichols said that he hoped that Pope Francis would be encouraged by the content of the progress reports from the Santa Marta Group. He said the reports “present evidence of practical cooperation and effective responses; they give details of the prosecutions of criminals and of the care of their victims. They tell of growing relationships of trust and of initiatives aimed at the long term prevention of trafficking in the countries of origin of its victims. In these reports we read of the emergence of good leadership – the wise use of authority; we read of a growing exposure of this great evil, whereby hidden misery is becoming more visible and silent cries of despair are heard and heeded. While the reports give details of thousands who have been rescued and brought to freedom, they also contain expressions of frustration. This growing sense of frustration is also a sign of progress as it expresses our strong determination to see the elimination of human trafficking given a greater priority and tackled with more urgency.”
Cardinal Nichols went on to highlight some of the work being done around the world to combat human trafficking, highlighting work in Ireland, Nigeria and many other places. He said, “In our meeting we are looking in more detail at work being carried out in a number of places and situations which demonstrate some aspect of this work. In Nigeria we see efforts being made to tackle the root causes of human trafficking by developing the creative use of land; in Ireland great strides are being made to stop slavery at sea; we see the international reach of this trade, in Colombia and the United States and the need to set modern technologies against it; from Lithuania and Argentina we have heard of much closer cooperation between the Church and the Police being established. We heard, so distressingly, of the trade in human organs and body parts which is being fought against in Mozambique. We have also studied projects in Australia, the Middle East, Brazil and the Netherlands and see real progress in Germany, Spain and Poland. We have had a positive focus on the importance of legislative change in this fight against modern slavery and on the particular vulnerability of children in our world today.
Cardinal Nichols told Pope Francis that the Santa Marta Group is We grateful for the way the Holy Father has urged the United Nations to include the eradication of human trafficking in its Sustainable Development Goals and for the role played in securing this by the Holy See together with the United Kingdom and members of the Santa Marta Group.
Concluding his address to Pope Francis, Cardinal Nichols said, “Holy Father, we want, above all, to thank you for the personal encouragement and inspiration you give to us all, whatever our profession or vocation. In presenting our work to you, we know that all we do is done in the sight of God, who surely weeps at the suffering of so many of His beloved children. Here, today, we know that we are accountable to Him for all our efforts and our failures and ask you, Holy Father, to bless us in His name and strengthen us in our resolve. And we most certainly promise you our prayers and affection today and always.”