The Catholic Church, through the work of the international Santa Marta Group, is involved in efforts to counteract widespread human trafficking and slavery in the world and offer support to its victims. Last month an international conference was held at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and the university has now established a Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery. Here Ashley Beck, Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Ministry at the university and a priest in south east London, looks at some theological perspectives.
Each year on World Peace Day, New Year’s Day (which is in practice, in England and Wales, observed on a Sunday later in January), the Pope issues a special message, a practice begun by Blessed Paul VI in 1968. Two years ago Pope Francis devoted his message for that year to the phenomenon of human trafficking and slavery in the world. This is a vast and frightening phenomenon: it is thought that between 12 and 27 million people in the world are enslaved in lives of forced labour or sexual exploitation, more people than at any other time in human history1. The setting up of the international Santa Marta Group, with the Pope’s blessing and support, and initiatives from various governments, including that of the United Kingdom, have made this a key issue for Christian social action and practical charitable work. It is important that the churches’ contribution is undergirded by good theology. At various times in Christian history the churches have appeared to accept the existence of slavery, in spite of consistent teaching about the dignity of every human person created in the image of God