Members of religious congregations in England and Wales are being invited to join a new network that is being set up to strengthen the fight against human trafficking. Two meetings are being held in January - one in London and one in Manchester - to lay the foundations of the network.
Organised by the Conference of Religious (the umbrella organisation for congregational leaders), the network aims to draw together the many members of religious institutes who are engaged in anti-trafficking work as well as others who'd like to offer support & increase their understanding. Those already involved are active in a plethora of ways, from preventative efforts to awareness raising, protection and assistance of victims. Some congregations have opened their homes to victims and a number of Religious work closely with the police, including Sisters who tip police off and also go out on raids to properties to help support those who are rescued. The help is immediate on the day with the most basic of requirements - clothing, food and accommodation - and can often continue for a lengthy period afterwards as the person attempts to rebuild their life.
The January meetings follow on from the recent major research conducted by the Arise Foundation which revealed the scale of the contribution, by Religious, to anti slavery. Arise sent a questionnaire to all Congregations in England and Wales, in the first ever attempt to map the work that is taking place. The report was launched, to much acclaim, at a well attended event in November. The Prime Minister sent a message to the Arise Foundation, praising the "extraordinary global contribution of Religious Sisters to the anti-slavery movement."
The Vice President of the Conference of Religious, Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ explained how this area of apostolic work has grown: "The development into anti-trafficking work of sisters and brothers in the UK has been influenced by pastoral needs on the ground which members of religious institutes were encountering in their ministries. The commitment of Religious is long-term, is inspired by traditions of service to those in need, and is an integral part of their spirituality. An important section in the report speaks about the intangible aspects of anti-slavery accompaniment. Aspects like love and trust which are so critical to this work, and yet feature so rarely in policy conversations on this subject. Love and trust takes time to build and to make manifest. It is the core strength of the work of Religious in this area."
The research revealed that 172 members of Religious Institutes - 144 women and 28 men - are providing frontline services to people who have fallen prey to traffickers. There has also been a huge contribution to the struggle in the very tangible contribution of properties and money. Sixteen Congregations have provided 29 properties at a book price of nearly sixteen-point-four million pounds- which is highly likely to be an underestimate of the value of these buildings. Some of these properties are used as safe houses where victims of modern slavery, including women with children, can find refuge. In addition, Congregations have donated more than £10 million pounds to anti-trafficking in the last five years and 22 Religious have been involved in founding antislavery organisations; they represent the full range of antislavery service provision: from prevention work to rescue, shelter and on-going accompaniment.
Sr Jane Maltby added: "Speaking from a personal perspective, my Congregation owns a property that we no longer need, and, rather than sell this commercially, we undertook extensive research and consultation in order to make the best decision we could, that would be in line with our priorities for mission. In the past, we ran schools and projects around the welfare of women and children, with others collaborating with us. Today, we are delighted to be able to turn that around, and we collaborate with others. In gifting the property and enabling women and children survivors to be cared for in a safe environment, we have entered a partnership which expresses the gospel values of tenderness and mercy, so much a part of our charism."
The new network will be affiliated to similar international groupings like Talitha Kum - a network which facilitates collaboration and the interchange of information between consecrated men and women in 76 countries. Founded nearly a decade ago, it arose from the shared desire to coordinate and strengthen the already existing activities against trafficking undertaken by consecrated persons in the five continents.
Many respondents to the Arise research said that they would like the Conference of Religious to play a role in assisting Religious engaged in anti-slavery work. The new network aims to give support, resources & training, better communications and a stronger voice. A key principle is that the network will be by Religious, for Religious. Details of the two meetings:
LONDON MEETING: JANUARY 19th 2019, 10.30am -4pm. Holy Apostles Church hall, Pimlico (47 Cumberland St, Pimlico, London SW1V 4LY.
MANCHESTER MEETING: JANUARY 26th 2019, 10.30am -4pm. Manchester Universities' Catholic Chaplaincy (Avila House, 335-337 Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PG).
Those wishing to attend are asked to register their interest at this link: https://arisefoundation.typeform.com/to/IKsjYJ by the 10th January 2019. There is no charge to attend. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.
Please note that each individual needs to register. (Those unable to fill out the link are asked to contact Sr Dominica Popach OP directly on: 07880 771 707 or send an email to : [email protected]).
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