Religious women take stand against human trafficking

Wed, Jun 15th 2016 03:00 pm

SYRACUSE — Heeding Pope Francis' call to fight "modern forms of enslavement," the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities have taken a congregational stand against human trafficking.

The sisters are using social media to educate their members, supporters, policymakers and the general public about the issue and to help people recognize the signs of trafficking and identifying resource centers for victims. They have conducted, and continue to schedule, training sessions for hotel employees and have sent letters to state and federal lawmakers in the areas where they have region houses. They are seeking support for any legislation that provides financial resources for victims and law enforcement and that increases prison terms for traffickers.

The sisters also are monitoring human trafficking-related state and federal legislation. They are in the process of creating a task force to develop a more detailed action plan.

"The fact that this is the first congregational stand taken since the union of several congregations 10 years ago is evidence of how strongly the sisters feel about ending this repulsive practice of exploitation," said Rochelle Cassella, congregational director of communications. "The rationale for taking this position is right there in our mission statement: 'We are sisters to all, serving with reverence, justice and compassion.'"

The Global Slavery Index estimates there are 35.8 million men, women and children enslaved throughout the world today, more than at any other time in history. Creating $150 billion in illegal revenue each year, it's the second largest criminal industry behind the illegal drug trade.

"The most talked-about form of human trafficking is the sex industry, but almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor," Cassella said. "Anyone who is controlled and exploited by another person is being trafficked - farm workers, child laborers, indentured servants, domestic workers. "The sisters, in union with the prayer of Pope Francis, call upon everyone to pray for and work towards an end to this modern-day slavery."

With administrative offices in Syracuse, New York and regional houses in Syracuse, Williamsville and Mount Vernon, as well as in Pittsburgh and Honolulu, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities is a congregation of more than 400 vowed women religious whose origin goes back to St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Together, the sisters serve in 12 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, as well as in Kenya and Peru.   

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