Archbishop Dermot Farrell focused on the plight of the enslaved and exploited women, children, and men who have come to our shores in his St Patrick’s Day homily at Mass in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin, which was attended by President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina. Also present at the Mass was Timothy Schmalz’s whose bronze sculpture ‘Let the Oppressed go Free’, blessed by Pope Francis and depicting Saint Bakhita, is now on display in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.
Focusing in on the faith of Patrick, Archbishop Farrell said, “The depth and vibrancy of Patrick’s faith still inspires. It inspires us to be more authentically ourselves, how to discern the stirring of the Spirit in our own hearts, and how to respond well to the challenges of our time and place. Patrick did not champion a style of spirituality that withdrew into an interior life, and was divorced from needs and struggles of the world in which he operated. No, the Christ who was Patrick’s Lord, brought Patrick along the way that he himself had travelled, the way that went “the second mile” (see Matt 5:41), that left one’s gift at the altar to be reconciled with those “who had something against” him (see Matt 5:23–24).
“This is the Patrick who inspires us today, and whom we, and indeed all of Europe still needs. The spirit of this Patrick is captured by Timothy Schmalz’s bronze sculpture “Let the Oppressed go Free” a scale model on display in front of me which was blessed by Pope Francis earlier this year. It depicts Saint Josephine Bakhita – a native of Darfur in Sudan – opening up the gates of the underworld and allowing those enslaved by trafficking to be set free. Like Patrick, she was kidnapped and trafficked. Like Patrick, she was but a child—aged only nine. In this bronze, more than 50 individuals capture the range of trafficked victims—child brides, young beggars, those trafficked for their organs, and both men and women enslaved by and for prostitution. Today, the numbers paint a grim picture: around the world, there are over 40 million victims of modern slavery of whom 70% are women, while about 20% are minors. As heirs of Patrick’s grounded and transformative faith, we cannot remain indifferent to this global phenomenon.”
If we hope to eliminate human trafficking, this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices must be broken.
Archbishop Farrell continued, “Let us not fool ourselves: slavery, in particular human trafficking, is still very much a feature of our world. It frequently spikes in situations like the humanitarian crisis provoked by wars and other crises. Traffickers exploit situations where screening and identification of victims is very difficult. In these days, there is credible evidence of the exploitation of women and children, fleeing the war in Ukraine, being lured into prostitution networks across Europe. Global crises, such as the pandemic, climate change, all sort of wars and conflicts, combined with deep-rooted discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals who are invisible or dispensable in their societies. If we hope to eliminate human trafficking, this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices must be broken.
“In the current Trafficking in Persons’ Report (TIP)—a highly respected metric—Ireland still remains on a Tier 2 Watchlist. Tier 2 is for countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum TVPS’s (Trafficking Victim’s Protection Acts) standards, but who are making significant efforts to come into compliance with those standards. This a source of immense shame. In this jurisdiction prosecutions are so low as to be farcical. As we commemorate St Patrick, a trafficked person, I appeal to the Government to address comprehensively the plight of the enslaved and exploited women, children, and men who have come to our shores.
“Today, I also acknowledge and thank those organisations and individuals who persistently work to prevent, and ultimately dismantle, this most evil and sinful enterprise of deception, entrapment, domination and exploitation. In particular, I thank women religious who rescue, rehabilitate, and reintegrate victims of human trafficking. As a country, we need to open our eyes to what is going on around us: we need to raise awareness of this underbelly of pervasive human degradation. Human trafficking is “a deep wound, inflicted by the shameful pursuit of economic interests without any respect for the human person” (Pope Francis, 7 February 2022). For the Christian, our treatment of people becomes a measure of our fidelity to the Lord himself, he who asserted “Whoever welcomes one such little one in my name welcomes me (Matt 18:5).”
Archbishop Farrell went on to say, “Have we drifted away from St. Patrick? Not at all! As a trafficked slave, Patrick knew first-hand the underbelly of human degradation. What was inflicted on him did not determine his response. His response was determined by the flame of faith he had received in his home and in his community. It had been given and received in such a way that it stayed alight in the face of the violence, isolation, and fear that still characterise the world of the trafficker and the trafficked. “The one who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you,” as it says in the Confession (§ 24). Patrick could still hear the word of God beating in his heart, the echo of the Scriptures; he heard their consolation and their call, and he heard ‘the voice of the Irish’ and responded to their cry.
As our world reels from the violence and destruction so cynically unleashed upon Ukraine, let us be inspired by the living faith of Patrick.
“At the beginning of this week nine years ago, on March 13th 2013, Jorge Bergolio was elected Bishop of Rome. He made his first papal journey to the island of Lampedusa, to the thousands of migrants who had been landed there, to condemn what he famously called “the globalisation of indifference.” (Homily, July 8, 2013) As our world reels from the violence and destruction so cynically unleashed upon Ukraine, let us be inspired by the living faith of Patrick. May the openness or his heart, drive far from us all indifference and self-interest. His world was harsh; so is ours? We are shocked as its harshness, horror, and profound unfairness are revealed anew. What we considered banished to the past, is being revealed not only at the edge of Europe, but in our midst, in apartments, not only in our cities but the small towns of this land.”
Photo: Sabina Higgins, President Michael D Higgins, sculptor Timothy Schmalz and Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell after St Patrick’s Day Mass in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin