ROME – Pope Francis on Monday joined survivors of human trafficking, religious sisters and cardinals in a day of prayer against modern day slavery, calling for a “courageous economy” with market rules that promote justice and bans human trafficking.

“An economy without human trafficking is an economy with market rules that promote justice, not exclusive special interests,” Francis said. “Human trafficking finds fertile ground in the approach of neo-liberal capitalism, in the deregulation of markets aimed at maximizing without ethical limits, without social limits, without environmental limits.”

He said this leads to choices being made on the calculation of advantages, often “cleverly obscured by a humanitarian or ecological veneer,” but without following an ethical criterion.

“Choices are not made by looking at the human person: people are numbers, to be exploited,” the pontiff said in a video message for the VII International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.

Instituted by Pope Francis and marked every year on the liturgical memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, considered a patron saint for trafficking victims. Born in 1868 in Darfur, Sudan, she was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery. She later moved to Italy, converted to Catholicism, and became a nun. She died in 1947 and was declared a saint by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000.

According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking and modern slavey affect over 40 million people worldwide, with a quarter those enslaved today being children.

The theme of this year’s day of prayer was “Economy without Trafficking in Persons.”

An economy without trafficking, Pope Francis said, “is a courageous economy- it takes courage.”

“Not in the sense of recklessness, of risky operations in the hope of easy gains,” he explained.

It requires the courage to combine legitimate profit with the promotion of employment and decent working condition, Francis said.

“In times of great crisis, such as the current one, this courage is even more necessary,” he said.

“In times of crisis, human trafficking proliferates, as we all know: We see it every day. In times of crisis, human trafficking proliferates; therefore, we need to strengthen an economy that may respond to the crisis in a way that is not short-sighted, in a lasting way, in a solid way,” Francis continued.

“An economy that cares for work, creating employment opportunities that do not exploit workers through degrading working conditions and grueling hours,” he said. “The COVID pandemic has exacerbated and worsened the conditions of labor exploitation; job losses have penalized many trafficked persons in the process of rehabilitation and social reintegration.”

The world day of prayer is coordinated by Talitha Kum, a network of nuns and religious sisters working against trafficking. It was set up by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), in partnership with the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Service to Integral Human Development, Caritas Internationalis, the Focolare Movement, and other groups.

“Trafficking has gotten worse because of the troubles with the economy,” said Cardinal Michael Czerny, who serves as Under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“There’s much to pray for, there is much to thank for, and there’s much to hope for, as we join, under the intersection of St. Bakhita, as a Church, to pray that this plague, this terrible pandemic of trafficking and slavery may soon be healed, as well as the pandemic of COVID,” he said.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster also joined through social media, to “pray for every person trapped in enforced labor & slavery here & in every country. We thank all who work to free & serve them. We speak out for all those trapped in slavery & in the processes of recovery. St Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.”

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