Bishops, clergy and religious, as well as senior law enforcement officers and representatives from international organisations gathered in the Vatican last week for the fifth annual Santa Marta Group conference held to update and share best practice in the fight against human trafficking and modern slave labour. Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns, represented the Irish Bishops’ Conference at the meeting.
The conference welcomed representatives from over 30 countries, including delegates from Africa, Asia Pacific, North and South America and Europe.
Speakers at the conference included Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Santa Marta Group, and Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar; Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick and General Commissioner Nestor Roncaglia of the Argentine Federal Police; and Jean Baderschneider of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.
Speaking during the conference, Cardinal Nichols said, ‘Slavery continues to affect the most vulnerable in our communities and the latest UN figures suggests over forty million people are now potential victims. This year’s conference hopes to build on the hard work produced by SMG partners since the group was established in 2014.The conference is an opportunity for law enforcement and the Church to share evidence of practical cooperation and effective responses driven by the importance of supporting survivors of human trafficking.’
‘Slavery is an affront to human dignity and we all have a responsibility to fight against it. This conference is a unique opportunity to strengthen our global response as we move to specific and accountable actions.’
Speaking at the end of the conference, Bishop Brennan said that many of the delegations had stressed the importance of moral values in the fight against human trafficking, ‘This goes to the heart of the matter where the money made is the driving force and to that end people are used and abused,’ he said, ‘This view was summed up succinctly in a contribution from the Polish group when they said “people were created to be loved … things were created to be used … when we love things and use people we all lose.”’
The conference coincided with the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, which is held on the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita a Sudanese nun, who as a child had the traumatic experience of being a victim of human trafficking. Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrated the feast with a Mass held in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The conference closed on Friday 9 February with an audience with Pope Francis.
Launched in 2014 by Pope Francis and led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols the Santa Marta Group is a unique global partnership between law enforcement and the Catholic Church. Since 2014 the group has grown to become a worldwide network covering 35 countries.