Pastoral Letter of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Launching Human Trafficking Awareness Day, 8 February, Feast of St Josephine Bakhita – to be read on Sunday, 5 or 12 February 2017.

In the image of God we were created,

male and female we were created.


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt was also recalled. This year our thoughts are drawn to the plight of those who have been trafficked, sold like commodities and sucked into organised crime in the cruelest violation of their dignity and rights.

The recent happenings on our continent, viz. the abduction of over 200 Nigerian girls and the ensuing worldwide campaign, Bring Back Our Girls, serve as a wakeup call for each one of us.

We also think of those who dedicate their lives and energy to aiding these young victims and in combating this terrible scourge. We wish to support them as well as acknowledge those who work tirelessly in raising awareness about the trafficking of our fellow human beings.

Vulnerable people are exploited – shipped around the world as merchandise; poor people are lured with promises of well-paid jobs; people are drugged, raped and beaten. They are separated and isolated from family and friends, taken by force: modern slaves conned into dehumanising conditions of work and left without the means and wherewithal to escape their bondage. This has become a terrible scandal, an abominable evil in human society and the source of so much suffering.

Human trafficking is said to be one of the three most lucrative businesses in the world – along with drugs and arms. And it is on the rise in Africa – South Africa has become a particular hotspot. On our own doorsteps people are being abducted in a world that has lost its fear of God and any sense of the sacredness of human life.

People have forgotten the foundational words of the Book of Genesis:

 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)

In the Social Doctrine of the Church, working for a just society and striving for justice for all is not merely a secular or humanitarian aspiration but rather is a reflection of “God’s essential respect and concern for each person and an effort to protect the essential human freedom necessary for each person to achieve his or her destiny as a child of God.”[1]

Pope St. John Paul II referred to the activities of human trafficking as “‘infamies’ which poison human society, debase their perpetrators and constitute a supreme dishonour to the Creator.[2]

Pope Benedict called it “a scourge of modern times.[3]

Pope Francis speaks of “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”[4]

The best defence against human trafficking is for every community to become conversant with its dynamics. This can be done by:

  • Educating ourselves as to what Human Trafficking is and being alert to what is happening around us
  • Familiarising ourselves with how traffickers operate and then reporting any suspicious cases of human trafficking to the police or church officials
  • Checking out the genuineness of job offers, be they local or overseas
  • Ensuring that children are registered
  • Praying together for victims of human trafficking and praying for an end to human trafficking

We ask that the month of February each year be dedicated to the promotion of Human Trafficking Awareness and that February 8th, the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita – Patron Saint of Sudan, herself a victim of human trafficking at the tender age of 9 or 10 – be dedicated as Day of Prayer for all who have been trafficked. Our Counter-Trafficking Office has prepared booklets relating the story of Josephine Bakhita as well as other relevant information to help us observe this time of prayer.

Joining in this struggle against human trafficking is to join Jesus in his search for those lost and scattered ones.

 “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for my sheep.” (John 10:14)

 Let us go forward with courage and faith knowing that we are not alone in doing this, rather that we are doing the will of God in seeking once again to abolish slavery, now, in our time. We implore the blessing of Jesus Christ and the prayers of Mary and Joseph, her spouse, the Holy Family of Nazareth.


+ Stephen Brislin

President Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference



[1] “Social Justice”, Handbook of Catholic Social Teaching;

[2] Letter to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran (on the occasion of the International Conference on Human Trafficking, 15 May, 2002).…/john_paul_ii/letters/…/hf_jp-ii_let_20020515_tauranMay 15, 2002

[3] October 28, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issued a message entitled Migration: a Sign of the Times, written for the 92nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees, observed January 15, 2006.

[4] Pope Francis, Apr 10, 2014. Vatican Information Service