Nuns Help Prostitutes Heal, Give Them Hope

Draw Strength From Charism of Eucharistic Adoration

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By Mirko Testa

ROME, JUNE 12, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A group of religious sisters devoted to Eucharistic adoration say they find the same God in the Blessed Sacrament that they see in the girls with whom they work -- young women rescued from the prostitution trade.

Sister Aurelia Agredano explained the work of her congregation, the Order of the Sisters of Adoration, Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity, at a conference in Rome on the plague of human trafficking.

Addressing the congress on June 4, Sister Aurelia explained the projects carried out by her congregation -- which was born in Madrid in 1856 -- to combat the traffic of women for sexual exploitation. Today the congregation has close to 1,300 religious in 22 countries (virtually in all of Latin America, but also in Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam).

The founder, St. María Micaela of the Blessed Sacrament, belonged to the Spanish aristocracy. From her youth, she was active in apostolates and charitable works.

While caring for girls suffering from venereal diseases in Madrid's St. John of God Hospital, she met a young patient -- "the girl with the shawl, who fell victim to an evil life" -- and convinced her to return to her family.

It was then that the religious discovered the social reality of prostitution and decided to found schools to help such girls, victims of poverty and ignorance.

Protagonists

Sister Aurelia Agredano, who has eight years of experience living beside girls from various countries who have fallen into the net of human trade, spoke with ZENIT about the project "Hope," founded in Spain in 1999.

"It is a program that puts women at the center, in their concrete realities, and calls for a choice made in full liberty," she explained. "More specifically, it is a path marked by stages characterized by concrete objectives and different structures of hospitality, where the woman is the authentic protagonist and recipient of individualized and integral care from the physical, psychological, social and spiritual point of view.

"In this way, through daily life in our 'Family Homes,' they begin to recover their lost confidence, start to take active part, to return to a normal life with study, the search for employment … until they achieve complete autonomy."

Social evil

Some 50 women have passed through the congregation's three homes, but about 300 are in contact.

"We are very active in denouncing this social [evil], with activities programmed through the media, magazines and videos," Sister Aurelia said. "We encourage awareness programs to generate common spaces for critical reflection, but above all we are committed to formation

"Our founder saw in formation the only means of salvation or rescue for these girls. Because of this, the social promotion and reinsertion [of the girls] is important, otherwise they run the risk of falling again into the same vicious circle."

The Spanish nun explained that the healing process takes close to two years -- "and it is not simple."

"At first," she said, "we engage in awareness-building at police stations, immigrant centers and embassies. In our reception homes, we live with them, attempting to create a family atmosphere, with all the difficulties entailed, given the diversity of languages and psychological dynamics that are a consequence of the sufferings they have endured."

Threatened

And an already complicated situation is made worse by frequent threats from the "owners" and managers who stand to lose money and business when the girls are rescued.

"We try to be very prudent and agile by changing our dwelling from one place to another," Sister Aurelia acknowledged. "We had to close a home in Belgium because we were threatened."

At the end of the program, the girls can decide if they return to their countries or stay. "In the [latter] case, we offer the opportunity to study the [local] language, to be trained and to seek work," the religious sister explained.

The projects are financed in general by the congregation itself or related foundations, and at times by public and private grants.

But it is the spiritual motivation that keeps the homes up and running.

"Our mission is nourished by continual adoration of the Eucharistic Jesus, in spirit and truth, and directed to liberating and promoting women exploited by prostitution or victims of other situations of slavery," Sister Aurelia affirmed. "We, the adorers, want to look at the world from the Eucharist; the God we adore in the Sacrament is the same we find each time in the women to whom we are sent.

"As adorers, we address the reality of a woman-victim of trade, from a concrete spirituality and pedagogy: a Eucharistic spirituality and the pedagogy of love."

The secret is this, she said: "To educate in liberty and with love, 'without punishments or harshness,' as our founder affirmed. To respect the young girls, to believe in them, to make each one feel important and a protagonist of her own future."