Vatican-sponsored anti-trafficking group is given 'Path to Peace' award

Vatican-sponsored anti-trafficking group is given ‘Path to Peace’ award

Vatican-sponsored anti-trafficking group is given ‘Path to Peace’ award

Kevin Hyland, Britain’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner; Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Vatican permanent representative to the UN; and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, speak at the United Nations about the Santa Marta Group. (Credit: Santa Marta Group.)

British Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Kevin Hyland, Britain’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner, accepted the Path to Peace Award on behalf of the Santa Marta Group on Wednesday evening.

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – British Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Kevin Hyland, Britain’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner, accepted the Path to Peace Award on behalf of the Santa Marta Group on Wednesday evening.

The Path to Peace Foundation, which supports the work of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, gave the award to the anti-trafficking organization – which takes its name from the Vatican guesthouse where Pope Francis lives — for “its outstanding work in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery and for its example of collaboration and innovation in the eradication of these evils.”

The Santa Marta Group was developed by the England and Wales bishops’ conference, and first met in Rome in April 2014. Police chiefs and Catholic leaders from around the world signed a declaration committing themselves to a partnership to eliminate human trafficking.

RELATED: Founder of Vatican anti-trafficking group resigns as head of UK slavery commission

The Path to Peace Award honors an individual or organization each year for outstanding service to the cause of peace. Past honorees include Carl Anderson, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus; Cardinal Mario Zenari, Papal Nuncio to Syria; and Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Dubai.

Nichols and Hyland have spent the week visiting various officials in the New York area to speak about trafficking.

“This is an evil crime on an international scale and, as a former commissioner for the Metropolitan Police said, it requires a concerted international response, and that is where the Church comes in. I couldn’t say that but that is what police chiefs see and is why this Santa Marta partnership is growing and seeing results locally,” Nichols said in an address to UN diplomats, law enforcement officials and charities involved in the support of survivors of human trafficking.

The cardinal drew attention to the vital role religious sisters play in the fight against modern slavery.

“Not only is the Church active across the world, and we must salute the religious women who lead on this, but also victims of trafficking are often hidden within migrant communities. These communities can look out for possible victims and also those victims will often go to the Church as a trusted place where the first steps can be taken towards their rescue. Traumatized victims will trust religious sisters and that first step is essential,” he said.

Another step is building trust between religious organizations and the civil authorities, especially police – a key aim of the Santa Marta Group.

Nichols said this process takes time and requires an honest assessment of successes and failures.

“Hearing police chiefs and Church leaders admit to failings demonstrates progress. We should not be afraid; we should have less fear about reputation,” the cardinal said. “We need to recognize that organized crime is precisely that: Organized. We are not. We need to develop these relationships and ensure the best local response by effecting and developing the resources of the Church and police across the world.”

One of the chief goals of the Santa Marta Group is to help put the care of victims at the center of law enforcement approaches to trafficking.

“To combat trafficking which exploits people, treating them as an expendable commodity where profit is the only motivation, requires a more powerful motivation. That motivation has to be a radical commitment to the human.”

The president of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak, praised the approach of the Santa Marta Group: “This is a surprising alliance, but effective.”

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