Baltimore, Md., Apr 5, 2017 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Maryland's bishops united in voicing their concerns over the evils of human trafficking, announcing their sponsorship of a statewide initiative aimed at raising awareness of the issue.
“The evil of human trafficking is an international, national and local scourge, and a grave violation of the dignity and freedom of all its victims,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington said in an April 3 statement. “As people of faith, this grave injustice cries out for a response.”
According to the U.S. State Department, upwards of 800,000 victims of trafficking are brought through the U.S. borders every year. Up to 17,500 individuals are also trafficked into the country annually. Globally, the number spikes into an estimated 20 million victims, according to the International Labor Organization.
The bishops lamented that the state of Maryland also sees a number of trafficked victims, due to Interstate 95, which acts as a hub to other cities, especially with the Baltimore Washington International airport nearby. The bishops' statement, titled Proclaiming Liberty to Captives, highlighted the duty of Christians to “break the yoke of modern-day slavery,” by raising awareness and supporting organizations that aid victims.
Many efforts are already in place, which rescue trafficked victims and prosecute the perpetrators, such as Maryland's Human Trafficking Task Force, who rescued almost 400 victims from trafficking in 2014. The bishops voiced their support of these initiatives, and also announced their own sponsorship of regional trainings that will raise awareness of human trafficking around the state.
“The Catholic bishops in Maryland pledge to devote the resources of the Church to support, unify and expand these efforts wherever possible,” the bishops stated. “To assist in those efforts, the Catholic Church will sponsor regional trainings throughout the state beginning in the spring of 2017, at which we will bring together national, state and local experts who will provide participants with effective tools for combating human trafficking in our local communities.”
As many victims are not aware of their own captivity, the bishops underscored the importance of these new training programs that would help individuals recognize and identify the signs of a trafficked victim. “Perhaps the most distressing aspect of human trafficking is the cloak of silence gripping its victims,” the bishops said, noting that many victims are vulnerable, poor, or runaways.
“Often, victims are not even aware they are being exploited,” they said, and asked that Catholics in Maryland attend the new training sessions “to recognize, set free, embrace and empower our brothers and sisters who are victims of human trafficking.”
The Maryland bishops are not alone in their concern over the staggering number of human trafficking victims. Pope Francis has also spoken out against the evils of trafficking, calling the injustice a “shameful wound.” The Holy Father also used his 2015 World Day of Peace address to speak out against trafficking, asking individuals to not “become accomplices to this evil,” but to “have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ.”
“Our commitment to addressing this issue reflects the commitment of the world-wide Church and especially Pope Francis, who from the start of his papacy has spoken passionately about this 'plague on the body of contemporary humanity,'” the bishops said.
The Maryland bishops urged local communities to learn more about human trafficking awareness through the new training programs, and also asked individuals to pray for the end of trafficking. “We urge Catholics in Maryland to take advantage of these trainings in order to shine a light on this issue.”