Pope Francis asked judges, prosecutors and magistrates gathered at the Vatican for a summit on human trafficking this week to remember that the victims always come first.

“The victims are the first who need to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society — and their traffickers and executioners must be given no quarter and pursued,” the Holy Father said in his address to the judges on June 3.

“Victims can recover and in fact we know that they can regain control of their lives with the help of good judges, social workers and society as a whole,” he added.

The summit, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, is the latest effort by Pope Francis and the Holy See to combat modern forms of slavery, including human trafficking, forced labor, the trade in organs and organized crime.

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against human trafficking in the past, calling it a “shameful wound” which has no place in “civil society.”  

In his address on Friday, the Holy Father also expressed his thanks to the representatives of the 193 United Nations member states for their unanimously approved Goal 8.7 to end human trafficking, which reads: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.”

“In calling together these judges, the Academy wants nothing more than to cooperate, within its means, with the UN’s mandate,” Francis said.

“I take this opportunity, therefore, to thank those nations whose Ambassadors to the Holy See have not shown themselves indifferent or unfairly critical, but, on the contrary, have actively collaborated with the Academy to make this summit possible.”

Judges who follow their vocation to establish justice for the sake of the community and for social peace fulfill a “crucial mission” in the world, the Pope said.

“When we say ‘execute justice’, as you well know, we do not mean seeking punishment as an end in itself, but in the case of penalties, that they be for the re-education of the wrongdoers in the hope that they can be reintegrated into society,” he said.

The issue of justice and of divine judgment is especially seen in the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew, the Holy Father noted.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who suffer for justice, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed by our Father are those who treat the most needy and least of my brothers and sisters as myself,” he said.

“They — and here I am referring especially to judges — will have the highest reward: they shall inherit the earth, and they will be called children of God, they shall see God, and enjoy eternity with the heavenly Father.”

At the end of the meeting on June 4, participants were invited to sign a Declaration resolving to combat human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.  Participants in the summit included Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermeulen; the United Nations High Commissioner against Human Trafficking, as well as representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Italy.