People who are trafficked are the most vulnerable and exploited in the world today.
That is the stark message from Bishop Patrick Lynch before a Rome-based conference on combating human trafficking.
Organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, in collaboration with the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the conference, which was held May 8, was attended by, among others, representatives of the FBI, London’s Metropolitan Police and the Polish Police Force. Those taking part included Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and a representative of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime.
Bishop Lynch, an auxiliary bishop in England’s Archdiocese of Southwark and chairman of the Office for Migration Policy at the bishops’ conference, told the Register that the aim of the conference was “to continue to make people aware of the tragedy of trafficking.
“The second objective is to build a network,” he continued, “not just here in Britain, but internationally — where different agencies, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], law enforcement groups, embassies and, of course, Church workers are working together and communicating with each other to respond to the needs of those who are trafficked and find themselves in difficult situations. So it is helping in terms of prevention, pastoral care and re-integration.”
The bishop told the Register that “the Church is in a fantastic position to respond to this for two reasons. The first is that, because of our parish structure, we have pastoral workers, priests and religious at the ground level. They are the people to whom, sometimes, those who are suffering actually go. Whether it’s in Japan, London, Nigeria or wherever, because of the pastoral structure, we have people on the ground who are very aware of the effects, the suffering and the tragedy of trafficking.
“At the global level, we also have that network of communication. For example, I got on the phone only yesterday to someone who I knew had worked in the Philippines, who was the director of a migration institute and now works in Rome. He was very aware of the whole agency, so was straightaway able to point me where I needed to go. We have a built-in communications network.”
Highlighting the fact that a number of women religious were taking part in the conference, Bishop Lynch said that he believes their work is frequently undervalued.
“I was reading an article by a sister who had worked throughout her life with people suffering from HIV/AIDS, and she was saying that the role of women religious, in this regard, is at the cutting edge of the mission of the Church,” he said. “I would very strongly agree with her, because, often, in all of these situations, women can reach trafficking victims much better than men. Women would be able to gain the trust of someone who has been trafficked far quicker than a priest or a pastoral worker or somebody who is male.
“For many years, religious sisters have made it their option to reach out to the most vulnerable. They are very good at seeing not only who is vulnerable, but responding in a practical way to those very same people.”
The bishop continued, “The contribution of women religious worldwide has been phenomenal, especially in what we would call the developing world; but also in this country, in education, care — whether in hospitals or homes for the elderly — and pastoral work in parishes. In other countries, internationally, such as with Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who is speaking at the conference, they have promoted awareness of trafficking. They have been at the cutting edge, but not always receiving the recognition or the publicity that they could have and should have.”
Bishop Lynch said that the Church’s work to stop human trafficking is just one part of its mission.
“You never limit yourself to just one,” he said. “The Church’s mission, as always, includes three different elements. Its mission is always, on the one hand, to help people grow in their relationship with the risen Lord — that’s the personal-spirituality side. The second aspect of the Church’s mission is to build up the life of the Church and the community. The third aspect is to be a sign of God’s Kingdom in the world — in other words, to make a big contribution to the common good. Included in that is serving and helping the most vulnerable.
“You can’t do everything, but we would say that those who are trafficked are the most vulnerable and most exploited in the world today. It’s an area which we can not only focus on, but we can harness a lot of agencies in the Church and outside the Church to make a significant contribution.”
A member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Bishop Lynch was born in Cork City, Ireland, and spent time at the order’s U.S. seminary. And so, by a strict definition, he is himself a migrant. With responsibility for migration issues at the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop Lynch said that there are a number of priorities in that field.
“The first issue is to create a welcoming atmosphere for migrants in the Church — not to put up a flag or poster saying, ‘You’re not welcome,’” he said. “The other big challenge is to look out for and look after the vulnerable migrants. That would be at the top of the list: the domestic workers and those who are seeking asylum and are caught in a situation where they’ve been refused asylum but it is nearly impossible for them to go back. There are different groups of migrants. The last area would be to build, by that spirit of welcome, a sense of belonging for everybody, not just migrants.”
He said integration of migrants “can be facilitated by governments, but it must be encouraged and helped from the ground up. It cannot be imposed from the top down. That’s where we as a Church are in a very strong position, because of the strong parish base and the strong network of ethnic communities we have.”
Bishop Lynch explained that, for him, integration means “enabling people to belong to, participate in and be part of all the networks of society today. If people don’t feel welcome, then they won’t belong. If they don’t feel they belong, then they won’t participate. So integration is not something that happens immediately; there are obstacles like language and culture, but it is a journey that can be facilitated by the host community. By that I mean by the whole of the Church and the whole of society, in terms of helping people on that journey.
“The first stop is making people feel welcome,” he concluded. “The second is helping people feel they belong, not in a superficial way, but that they belong to a local community or a local church or a local society: to help people develop the skills where they belong and then to help them develop the skills to participate.”
James Kelly is a columnist for The Universe and a researcher at the University of London.