ROME — Pope Francis railed against human trafficking on Thursday, once again labeling it a “crime against humanity” while addressing a Vatican-organized conference in Rome on the issue.
Departing briefly from his prepared text, the pontiff added that it is such a crime “without any doubt.”
“Trafficking seriously damages humanity as a whole,” he said, “tearing apart the human family and the Body of Christ.”
The pope’s address came at the end of a three-day long conference organized by the Vatican department for Migrants and Refugees to discuss the implementation of the group’s “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking,” which were published in January at the pope’s behest.
The international conference brought together some 200 participants, including some of the world’s leading activists and organizers on the issue. The conference explored the issue in depth, with particular attention to trafficking in the context of sexual exploitation, slave labor, smuggling, and the organ trade.
“Trafficking in persons is one of the most dramatic manifestations of…commodification,” Francis said on Thursday. He went on to add that it is an act of “contempt for the freedom and dignity of every human being, be they a compatriot or a foreigner.”
Francis emphasized that the practice undermines the dignity of both victims of trafficking and its perpetrators.
The pope’s passion for human trafficking has led him to repeatedly condemn trafficking in all of its forms throughout his six-year papacy and it is widely perceived as one of his signature issues of concern. Most recently, the Vatican announced that the pope has selected Italian Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a leading crusader against trafficking, to pen the reflections for next week’s via Crucis for the annual Holy Week liturgies.
On Thursday, Francis singled out the work of religious men and women for their work in this area.
“I feel I must express special thanks to the many religious congregations that have worked and continue to work in this field, even online, thus acting as the ‘avant-garde’ of the Church’s missionary action against all forms of trafficking,” he said to applause.
Giving a nod to the “three Ps” — the international community’s three hallmark initiatives to combat trafficking of prevention, protection and prosecution — the pope praised the work of those in attendance by noting “the numerous initiatives that you see on the front lines to prevent trafficking, protect survivors, and prosecute offenders are worthy of admiration.”
“All actions that aim to restore and promote our humanity and that of others fulfill the mission of the Church, as a continuation of the saving mission of Jesus,” he said.
The pope also said the Church should use its extensive network and expertise in the area of anti-trafficking to collaborate both internally and with others involved in the same fight outside of the Church.
“The offices established by local churches, religious congregations and Catholic organizations are called to share their experience and knowledge and to join forces in synergistic activity spanning the countries of origin, transit, and destination of those who are trafficked.”
“To make its action more adequate and effective, the Church must learn how to welcome the help of other political and social actors,” he added.
Before his final summation, the pope once more derided the commodification of the human person brought about by trafficking activities.
“I sincerely thank you for all that you are already doing on behalf of our many brothers and sisters who are the innocent victims of the commodification of the human person,” he said.
Once more going off script, the pope said, “we must repeat this word, the commodification of the human person. We must repeat this discussion.”
“I encourage you to preserve in this mission,” he concluded, “often risky and anonymous, but precisely because of this, irrefutable proof of your selfless generosity.”