Monday, May 7, 2018

Video Message to Buenos Aires

The Holy Father, Pope Francis has sent a video message to those who are participating in the second International Forum on Modern Slavery, organized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and with the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodov Institute in Berkeley (California, USA).  The Forum, which is focused on the theme: Old problems in the new world, is taking place from 5 to 8 May at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Buenos Aires.

Video Message of His Holiness, Pope Francis
addressed to participants taking part in the
International Forum on Modern Slavery

Dear brothers and sisters,

I welcomed your invitation to send a greeting to you who are participating in this Forum on the modern forms of slavery: Old problems in the new world, organized by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, which is guided by the beloved Metropolitan Tarasios, and by the Orthodox AtenĂ¡goras Patriarchate of Berkeley (California) under the patronage of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  First of all, I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness, Bartholomew I, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace, Justin Welby who inaugurated this Forum last year.  It comforts me to know that we share the same preoccupation for the victims of modern slavery.

Slavery is not a phenomenon that belongs to former times.  It is a practice that has deep roots, one that is still practiced today in many various forms: trafficking of human beings, exploitation of work through debt, exploitation of children, sexual exploitation and forced domestic work are some of the many forms.  Each one is more serious and inhuman than the others.  Despite the lack of information available to us from some regions of the world, the figures are dramatically elevated and, most likely, underestimated.  According to some recent statistics, there are more than 40 million people, men, but above all women and children, who suffer from slavery.  Simply to give us an idea, we can think that if all those people lived in a single city, it would be the largest metropolis on our planet and it would contain - more or less - four times the population of the entire urban area of Buenos Ares including greater Buenos Aires.

Faced with this tragic reality, none of us can wash our hands if we do not want to be seen, in some way or another, as an accomplice to this crime against humanity.  The first task that is imposed is that of putting into action a strategy that will allow for the spreading of greater knowledge about the subject, tearing the veil of indifference that seems to cover the fate of this portion of humanity that suffers, that is suffering.  It seems that many do not wish to understand the extent of the problem.  There are some who, since they are directly involved in criminal organizations, do not want to be spoken about, simply because they derive high levels of profit from these new forms of slavery.  There are also some who, even though they know the problem, do not wish to speak because that is where the chain of consumption ends, as a consumer of the services offered by men, women and children who have been turned into slaves.  We cannot afford to be distracted: we are all being called to move away from any form of hypocrisy and to face the reality that we are part of the problem.  The problem is not in the opposing lane: it involves me.  We are not allowed to look away and to declare your ignorance or our innocence.

A second great task is to act in favour of those who are converted into slaves:  to defend their rights, to prevent those who are corrupt and criminals alike from escaping justice and from having the final word about exploited persons.  It is not enough for just some States and International Organizations to adopt a particularly harsh policy in order to punish the exploitation of human beings, if afterwards, the root causes are not addressed, the deepest roots of the problem.  When countries suffer extreme poverty, suffer violence and corruption, neither the economy nor the legislative framework nor the most basic of infrastructures are effective; they fail to guarantee essential security, assets or rights.  In this way, it is much easier for the perpetrators of these crimes to continue acting with total impunity.  In addition, there is a sociological fact: proponents of organized crime and illegal trafficking of human beings choose their victims from among persons who have little means of subsistence and even less hope for the future.  To be even clearer: they are among those who are the poorest, the most neglected, the most discarded.  The basic response lies in creating opportunities for integral human development, starting with quality education: this is the key point, quality education from early childhood, in order to continue creating new opportunities for growth through employment.  Education and employment.

This is immense work, which requires courage, patience and perseverance; it requires a common and global effort on the part of the different actors who contribute to society.  The Churches must also take up their part in this effort. While individuals and groups speculate shamefully about slavery, we Christians, working together, are called to develop more and more collaboration, in order to overcome all kinds of inequality, all kinds of discrimination, which are precisely the factors that make it possible for one man to make another man a slave.  A common compromise in order to face this challenge will be a valuable aid toward creating a renewed society oriented toward freedom, justice and peace.

I hope that this Forum will be successful; I ask the Lord to bless you and to bless the work that you are doing.  And, please, do not forget to pray for me.  Thank you.

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