The message for the World Day of Peace has a dramatic tone which at the same time is open to trust. Pope Francis wished to address it to every woman and man, without distinction of faith or ideology. Dramatic indeed is the “abominable phenomenon” which the Pontiff chose to call to international attention. It is the scourge of human exploitation by man, even to the point of slavery. The word has been nominally silenced; in fact, however, slavery still exists in many societies, often hidden or ignored.
The Pope’s gaze is rooted in the biblical vision but his words are addressed to everyone, basing themselves on the expression used by the Apostle Paul in his shortest and most moving text: in a note addressed to Philemon asking him to take back a runaway slave Onesimus, to welcome him no longer as a slave but as “a beloved brother”. And this is the root of the brotherhood desired from the beginning by the Creator, but also from the beginning is overshadowed by sin. However, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” the papal message responds, in keeping with St Paul.
So such relations, worthy of man, are not impossible even if slavery is not only an historical phenomenon but a tragic and shameful reality today, with which Bergoglio has always been concerned and again emphatically denounces as a “crime against humanity”, detrimental to millions of human beings: women and men, even children, people forced into prostitution, sold for the removal and trafficking of organs, held in slavery by terrorist groups, for example in regions of Africa and of the Near and Middle East.
It is indeed an abominable and worldwide phenomenon, but one which rarely manages to receive attention in the international media. The image traced by the Pontiff is stark in its horrifying contours and is completed in the message which refers to its causes, from poverty to corruption. These are increasingly oppressive dimensions that can lead to perverse entanglements in public life, as demonstrated in Italy by the ongoing investigation in Rome.
Adding to this disheartening panorama is the impression — denounces Pope Francis, who has promoted, even in the Vatican, various meetings to combat trafficking — that this phenomenon of slavery occurs “within a context of general indifference”. Yet signs of hope are multiplying, confirming St Paul’s conviction that where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. In fact, the Pontiff emphasizes the enormous, yet “silent efforts which have been made for many years by religious congregations, especially women’s congregations, to provide support to victims”.
It is thus women above all who help the victims, predominantly women and girls, with care, rehabilitation and aid in the often difficult social reintegration. Therefore, Pope Francis repeats, it is necessary that the “role of women in society must also be recognized”. It is no coincidence that the message for the World Day of Peace today holds up the example of Josephine Bakhita, an African Saint and slave-turned-free “daughter of God”, for the attention of women and men of good will for a future of hope.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 22, 2019
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