By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
Around the world, including in northeastern Minnesota, there are millions of victims of human trafficking — effectively modern day slavery. On Feb. 8, Catholics in the Duluth Diocese will have an opportunity to respond to the situation with prayer.
The event will be held at 5 p.m. at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery, 1001 Kenwood Ave., Duluth, and is hosted by the Diocese of Duluth, the monastery and St. Michael Church in Duluth, in conjunction with efforts by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other dioceses around the country, said Patrice Critchley-Menor, director of social apostolate for the diocese.
She noted that human trafficking is an important issue for the U.S. bishops, who have devoted resources both for victims and survivors of trafficking and for public policy advocacy; for Pope Francis, who wrote his World Day of Peace message about it; for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which has worked to help pass the Safe Harbor bill; and for Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba.
However, she said it hasn’t filtered down as much to local congregations. “There’s not a lot of congregations doing work on human trafficking yet,” she said. “There’s pockets here and there, but not that many.”
Last year’s efforts to set aside the day came too late to really organize something at the diocesan level, but this year she has been able to work with people in the area already involved in making a difference, many of them Benedictine sisters from St. Scholastica, to get together the ecumenical prayer service.
“In our conversations, we thought about doing it just with the evening Liturgy of the Hours prayers that the sisters do every night,” she said.
The liturgy will use the texts prescribed in the church’s liturgy but will also include a variety of prayer intentions written and delivered by people involved in the work of caring for the situation.
“When you think of human trafficking, there’s a number of different populations that need our prayers. Of course victims and survivors for sure, but also service providers and communities of faith and the cops and government officials who are making public policy decisions and clergy and our religious leaders,” Critchley-Menor said.
The day was chosen by the USCCB in part because of its feast day, which honors St. Josephine Bakhita, who was born in Darfur at the end of the 19th century and sold into slavery as a young girl. She was sold to different people but never lost hope and eventually became a Christian and a member of a religious order.
When asked how big the issue is in our region, Critchley-Menor said, “It’s significant.”
In addition to the trafficking issues on ships, she said, there is a “really bad” program of trafficking of Native American women, and issues with trafficking during hunting season on the Iron Range. There have also been incidents in Lake County.
She said many times abuses of human dignity like this seem like things that happen elsewhere.
“We think these are things that happen far away, and a lot of times in Duluth, that’s true,” she said “... but it’s not the case with trafficking.”
She offered suggestions for making a different. “Number one is pray. That’s something everyone can do,” she said.
She also urged people to learn more about the issue and to help build a culture of human dignity by not tolerating talk in everyday conversation that degrades human dignity.