ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON PHOTOS BY DAPHNE STUBBOLO Faith leaders gather at a Feb. 8 inter-religious prayer service for victims of human trafficking. From left to right: Reverend Christopher Zacharias, with the John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church; Rabbi Gerald Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington; Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington; and Rajwant Singh, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign.
ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON PHOTOS BY DAPHNE STUBBOLO Faith leaders gather at a Feb. 8 inter-religious prayer service for victims of human trafficking. From left to right: Reverend Christopher Zacharias, with the John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church; Rabbi Gerald Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington; Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington; and Rajwant Singh, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign.
On the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was born in Sudan and kidnapped and enslaved as a young child, religious leaders from throughout the Washington area gathered at Trinity Washington University for a Feb. 8 inter-religious prayer service remembering survivors and victims of human trafficking, which is often referred to as “modern-day slavery.”

After the St. Camillus Intercultural Choir sang the opening song, “Let Justice Roll Down,” Sister of St. Francis Maria Orlandini offered a reflection on the life of St. Josephine.

Sister Maria grew up in Italy, where St. Josephine lived for much of her life, and was educated by the Daughters of Charity, the order that St. Josephine joined in 1896.

Growing up, “her name was known to us…as someone who overcame suffering and hardships…someone who was able to forgive because of love for God,” said Sister Maria.

Through the saint’s writings, Sister Maria told how Josephine’s sister was first kidnapped and then Josephine was later kidnapped herself, subsequently subjected to harsh beatings and sold multiple times.

“We had to endure everything in silence. No one came to dress our wounds. No one dared speak a word of comfort to us,” Sister Maria read from St. Josephine’s writings.

What made St. Josephine so special, Sister Maria said, is that she “made kindness and compassion her life’s mission.”

“I am assuming that she wanted to give others what she wanted so badly,” said Sister Maria. “After she came to know God, she became God’s love and compassion.”

Even after all of the mistreatment and hardship she suffered, “Bakhita did not become bitter and vengeful,” but rather “saw everything in God” and was able to forgive, said Sister Maria.

Because of this, during her canonization Mass, Pope Saint John Paul II called her “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”

Sister Maria noted, “Today, slavery is no less part of the dark side of our world,” telling the story of a 15 year-old girl who was looking to escape a difficult life, and climbed into the truck of a man who promised her she would become a model. In the end, he sold her in hotel rooms to men paying for sex.

“How many more young Bakhitas are out there?” asked Sister Maria. “We know there are many, and for them we pray tonight.”

Faith leaders from the Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Sikh, and Christian traditions all offered reflections and prayers, with the refrain “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” sung in between.

Rabbi Gerald Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, reflected on the upcoming Jewish feast of Passover, and how an integral part of their Passover Seder is “to remember you were once a slave in Egypt.”

Rabbi Serotta also reflected on how, “the pleasures of many of our paradises are often sitting right above somebody else’s hell,” and in this case, “slave labor is present in the supply chains of many of the goods that we take for granted.”

This is a problem that “will not change until we become aware of how much we benefit from slave labor,” he said, asking God to “help us to take risks for justice.”

Jayne Sutton, with the Shambhala Meditation Center of Washington, D.C., reflected on the Buddhist teaching that people are all fundamentally good, and “the suffering we inflict on others comes from our lack of connection with our nature.”

Chase Kimball, a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, reflected on how slavery strips people of the gift of freedom that God gave them as humans.

“What is so devastating about trafficking and slavery” is not just the physical degradation that happens, he said, but also  “the spiritual element of limiting freedom because the ability to choose, next to life itself, is the most important gift God gave them.”

Kimball also suggested that everyone bears some sort of responsibility for what is happening to modern-day slaves, and he said people have the responsibility to work for justice.

“My prayer is that we will live up to the freedom God gave us to help those who are not free,” he said.

Rajwant Singh, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign, spoke about the presence of God in the poor and suffering.

“If you really want to discover God, if you really want to feel the presence of our Creator…be with the poor, be with the victim,” he said. “…If you do not have compassion for those who are suffering, you are not a religious person.”

Reverend Christopher Zacharias, with the John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church in Washington, said, “When you think about human trafficking, you think about stolen hopes and stolen dreams.”

Both Reverend Zacharias and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington, spoke about the tragedy of how human trafficking breaks apart families.

“If we don’t care for families, we don’t have any future,” said Bishop Dorsonville.

As the last speaker of the service, the bishop emphasized, “even though action is fundamental…it is also important to see that prayer moves mountains.” Through prayer, he said, “The Mighty One might be able to come into our faces and voices and make us the instruments of changing the lives of others.”