Today is the first international day of prayer and awareness of human trafficking. Sometimes we think slavery was abolished over one hundred and fifty years ago; that is is something of the past. The facts speak otherwise. Each year, around 2.5 million people are victims of trafficking and slavery. For traffickers and pimps, this is one of the most lucrative illegal activities in the world, generating a total of 32 billion dollars a year. It is the third most profitable “business” after drugs and arms trafficking.

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of St Josephine Bakhita. She was from the Darfur region of South Sudan. Captured at the age of 8, she was so traumatised by what happened to her, that she could not speak and even forgot her name. Passed on from one slave owner to another, she never saw her family again. She was abused and mistreated so much that they counted 140 scars on her body. She was eventually taken out of captivity by an Italian family and with time she became a Christian. Such was the sweetness of her experience of God's love that she was able to say these astonishing words at the end of her life, 'If I ever were to meet my captors again, I would get down on my knees and kiss their hands, for without them I would never have come to have known the love of Christ'.

The primary objective of this Day is to create greater awareness on this phenomenon and to reflect on the overall situation of violence and injustice that affect so many people, who have no voice, do not count, and are no one: they are simply slaves. Often it is the very poor who are caught up in modern forms of slavery who are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour and begging, illegal organ removal, domestic servitude and forced marriages, illegal adoption and other forms of exploitation.