The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Italian Union of Major Superiors co-sponsored a five-day seminar in Rome last week titled "Building a Network: The Prophetic Role of Women Religious in the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons."
All continents were represented at the Oct. 15-20 congress, which launched the International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons (INRATIP), dedicated to strengthening the global fight against sexual, labor and organ trafficking.
Sister Susan Malone of Los Angeles said women religious are not naive about the task they are taking on, and are prepared for the long haul. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that between 700,000 and 2 million women are trafficked annually across international borders.
Pointing to history, Sister Malone said that women religious have always tackled large social problems, and human trafficking is the new call.
Sister Patricia Egbebulem of Nigeria told ZENIT that "this work is not pretty, not rosy," but women religious have an advantage in understanding the situation since they are approached by victims in dire need who see a religious sister as someone to trust.
U.S. President George Bush sent a note to the gathering, in which he said that "human trafficking is one of the worst offenses against human dignity; it is a modern-day form of slavery, treating women and children as commodities for sale to the highest bidder."
"As members of the global community," the president continued, "we are called by conscience and compassion to bring this cruel practice to an end. Those gathered for this seminar are helping to fight this great evil by harnessing the energy and resources of individuals guided by faith and dedicated to the cause of justice."
Bush added, "Your efforts reflect the very best of the human spirit and help build a world where every life is respected."