When St. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Josephine Bakhita in 2000, he said the saint is a “shining advocate of genuine emancipation,” noting how despite her abduction into slavery at a young age, she well understood God to be the source of true freedom. More than one decade later, at the urging of Pope Francis in 2015, St. Bakhita’s feast day, Feb. 8, was also named the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Human Trafficking. 

In a special Mass for remembering survivors and victims of human trafficking, Washington Auxilary Bishop Mario Dorsonville urged the faithful present at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland on Feb. 8 to pray and work to invoke change for the protection of those suffering due to human trafficking. 

“In this world, there are close to 25 million people who are victims (of human trafficking),” Bishop Dorsonville said. “That means we are in need of 25 million human encounters... with holy women and holy men, who might be able to bring these people to Christ and to healing.” 

Images of St. Josephine Bakhita were brought to the altar during the offertory at the Mass at St. Camillus. (CS Photo/Mihoko Owada) 

Sister Maria Orlandini, a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia, works as the director of advocacy at the Franciscan Action Network. Prior to the Mass, she offered a short reflection on the life of St. Josephine and the importance of action against human trafficking today. 

“We remember and pray for survivors and victims of human trafficking,” she said. “We pray we may work together to remove the causes of this despicable scourge. Today is also a day of awareness and action. Our prayers… will not be enough unless we accompany them with the willingness to become aware and get involved with eradicating this evil.”

St. Josephine is often seen as an intercessor for those who are victims of human trafficking, the Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia said. 

 “Having experienced unimaginable sufferings, who better than (St.) Bakhita can intercede for people who are also suffering great things…,” she said. “We have a great intercessor in Heaven.”

Bishop Dorsonville added how in today’s world, human trafficking has spread to “every single point around our cities… and it has multiplied its effects,” he said.

While there are many like St. Josephine who are suffering, he said, “The point is hope, faith and love.” 

“And (we must) be able to find a moment to pray for them in our daily prayers,” Bishop Dorsonville said.

A woman prays at the Mass in honor of survivors and victims of human trafficking at St. Camillus on Feb. 8, the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action against human trafficking and the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada) 

After the Mass, an educational reception was held to share about the various anti-human trafficking organizations that work to eradicate human trafficking and also aid in the healing of victims. 

Sister Joan Mumaw, a Sisters Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan, is the president of Friends in Solidarity, an organization of Catholic religious men and women in the United States who support the religious and others in South Sudan and beyond. She said her ministry believes that human trafficking “is best combatted with education.” 

Much of Friends in Solidarity’s work consists of training teachers and nurses, and others who will be able to come to the aid of many of the suffering in South Sudan, a country, she said, where “all they’ve ever known is war.”

In Silver Spring, Sister Carol Ries, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, joins with many in the Mid-Atlantic Coalition Against Modern Slavery to stand and pray in silent witness for the victims of human trafficking at various occasions throughout the year on street corners. 

“Our hope is that people become aware that trafficking is here,” she said. “I lot of people think it is just over there.” The sister added that since the group meets regularly, the local area is beginning to recognize their presence and mission. 

After the Mass, an educational reception was held to share resources for awareness and combatting human trafficking locally and internationally. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

A special Stations of the Cross for the intention of the victims of human trafficking will be offered at 7 p.m. on March 23 at St. Camillus Church.