young ambassadors in Rome for the World Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking 

By Linda Bordoni

Feb 9 2024

Over 50 million people worldwide are enslaved and exploited as human traffickers become more sophisticated and lure more and more vulnerable people, including children and migrants, into the trappings of modern slavery. The Catholic Church is increasingly on the frontlines in the battle against the phenomenon that is described by Pope Francis as “an open wound in the side of humanity.

On Feb 8 all people of goodwill are invited to participate in the World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Speaking on Sunday during the Angelus, Pope Francis highlighted the World Day. He invited all people of goodwill to join together to fight the dramatic global phenomenon noting that so many of our brothers and sisters are deceived with false promises and then subjected to exploitation and abuse.

The international observance, on the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita – a Sudanese nun who was enslaved as a girl and has become the symbol of the Church’s commitment against this scourge –  aims to garner support and raise awareness in the fight against what is often an invisible trade, in which millions of vulnerable people are subjected to violence and injustice.

Coordinating the Church‘s efforts to combat human trafficking is the global Talitha Kum network of over 6,000 religious sisters and partners, promoted by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG). 

This year Talitha Kum international coordinator, Sister Abby Avelino, has welcomed and organized some fifty young representatives from partner organizations to Rome for a week of initiatives and awareness-raising activities.

Following participation in Pope Francis’ General Audience, Sister Abby and one of the young ambassadors – Felicia Monjeza – spoke to Vatican News about Pope Francis’ support for the network’s commitment, about how the focus is increasingly on the involvement of young people, and about the sheer numbers of the phenomenon that affects people in every continent:

Sister Abby Avelino: a global call to arms

Sister Abby shared her insights into the expansive network’s role in combating human trafficking. Based in Rome, she spoke about the growth of Talitha Kum, initiated in 2009 by a group of religious sisters and brothers associated with the women of the UISG and with the men of the USG.

“Since then, Talitha Kum has grown into a formidable force, with 58 networks in 97 countries across all continents,” Sister Abby explained.

Emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts, she underscored the importance of networking with various partners, including international agencies, government bodies, church leaders, and young people.

Strategic networking

Reflecting on the challenge of combating human trafficking, Sister Abby stressed the power of awareness and strategic networking. “The network of traffickers is getting smarter and more sophisticated. Networking is the key in order to combat human trafficking,” she said.

Sister Abby highlighted specific programmes promoted by the network, such as the Youth Ambassadors initiative, aimed at raising awareness among vulnerable groups, increasingly children. She conveyed the urgency of the situation noting that one in four children worldwide falls victim to human trafficking and exploitation.

“One in four children are victims of human trafficking and exploitation.”

Regarding Pope Francis’ continued and vocal support, Sister Abby expressed deep gratitude.

“Pope Francis has been very supportive since he began his papacy. His messages, particularly for the International Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking, encourage and mobilize more young people to join the cause.”

Felicia Monjeza: amplifying young voices

Felicia Monjeza, a Young Ambassador to the cause from Malawi, is in Rome for the activities leading up to the 2024 World Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking which included a flash mob, an ecumenical prayer vigil and an Online Pilgrimage of prayer and awareness as well as participation in the Pope’s Angelus and General Audience.

Representing the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), she highlighted the crucial importance of involving young people in the fight against human trafficking. Based on her own first-hand witness of the scourge in Southern Africa where trafficking is fueled mainly by poverty and immigration, Felicia highlighted the vulnerability of girls and young women.

“Talitha Kum is a platform for us young people to be actively engaged in the fight against human trafficking,” she said.

She upheld the transformative impact of coordinated networks like Talitha Kum that empower young voices making them part of a platform to connect and raise awareness effectively.

Every saved person counts

Speaking about the power of social media and youth groups, Felicia outlined the channels through which they diffuse their message. “Our voices are still going to go far. Even if we save one person, we have done big in the fight for human trafficking,” she said, inviting young people all over the world to join the battle.

Felicia acknowledged Pope Francis’s recognition and support as a source of energy: “Pope Francis, recognizing our presence and effort in fighting human trafficking, gives us more visibility. It’s a challenge for us to do more because more is expected from us!”

“It’s a challenge for us to do more because more is expected from us!” – Vatican News