WASHINGTON, D.C. — Recognizing that human trafficking is pervasive in the United States and globally, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration called for prayer and worldwide action to end the exploitation of people.

Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington issued his appeal in advance of the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking Feb. 8.

The day is observed on the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was sold into slavery as a child in her native Sudan, and has been designated by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The bishop pointed to the Catholic Church’s continuing work and unwavering commitment to eradicate human trafficking and alleviate its harm to survivors.

Pope Francis “has aptly described slavery as ‘a scourge that wounds the dignity of our weakest brothers and sisters,'” Dorsonville said. “Often unseen, we know that human trafficking is pervasive throughout the world, including in the United States, and it is imperative that we take all necessary steps to address this injustice.”

Pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as having intensified the social and economic inequalities that fuel human trafficking and exploitation, the bishop said efforts must be taken to remember “those on the peripheries of society” as the world emerges from the global health crisis.

“On this occasion and always, our hearts and prayers are with all who are impacted by human trafficking, and we pledge our ongoing commitment to rid the world of this modern slavery,” he said.

Born about 1869, St. Josephine Bakhita was 7 when she was sold into slavery and trafficked to Italy. An Italian court later ruled she was free. St. John Paul II canonized her in 2000.