Ethical Consumerism and our Catholic Faith

Stephanie Rapp, Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus

Working with victims of human trafficking forever changed me. The immeasurable suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters broke my heart and it does still each time I think of them. It is unfathomable that human beings are seen as objects and then, are abused, exploited, bought, and sold.

We as Catholics know this is wrong. We know that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and willed into being by Him. Pope Francis once said, “Things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

So, does it matter what “things” we buy? Can our consumerism be directed for the betterment of others?

Let us look again to Pope Francis. In a speech delivered on January 1, 2015, Pope Francis called us all to honor God with our purchases, highlighting the fact that people are at the heart of every product we buy. His speech also brought awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the marketplace. Our pope encouraged us to “practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement” and not to give in to the temptation to purchase items that may have been produced by exploiting others. He invited us to be socially responsible consumers, stating that “every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” What we purchase, and who we purchase from, is important and linked to our faith.

The sad reality is that the exploitation of others may be involved in the production of everyday products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, clothing, etc. In addition to trafficking, poor working conditions, unfair wages, child labor, and production methods that harm the environment, are common business practices. Yet, praise God, there are simple ways we can all help. One way is by supporting ethical trade!

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) defines ethical trade as “a transparent commitment by a company to treat its workers and suppliers fairly, care for the environment, and invest in the community.” There are many ethical companies that one can purchase from, including ones that partner with CRS. These companies go a step further and ensure that they are not involved in any practices that conflict with Catholic social and moral teaching.

So, what do we do with this information?

Do what the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish School in Grove City, Ohio did – take action! In the 2015-2016 school year, Denise Johns, guidance counselor for the school, introduced me to a group of students called Legacy Leaders. This group of students eagerly learned about ethical trade and immediately wanted to do something to educate others and promote justice. They made ethical trade their social justice theme for the school year, enthusiastically taking on many substantial projects including the following: holding an assembly for the student body explaining ethical trade in a child-appropriate manner, selling ethically traded products at a school craft fair, ensuring all teachers in the school had curriculums addressing ethical trade, and facilitated school-wide participation in Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl Lenten Program.

Let us all be like the students of OLPH, raising awareness and using the power of their purchases to transform lives.

Here are some ways that Catholic Relief Services suggests we do this:

  • Pray;
  • Learn;
  • Buy only what you need;
  • Shop ethical companies;
  • Create community with ethical trade via a consignment sale, community order, coffee sale or CRS Fundraiser.

Stephanie Rapp is the Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus and a Fair-Trade Ambassador with Catholic Relief Services.

Being an Ethical Consumer: A Call for People of All Ages and Backgrounds

Deisy Muñoz Viesca, policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB

Living in the United States, I think many of us take for granted the ready accessibility of food resources. Supermarkets across the nation offer a variety of food that is not necessarily produced in this country. For example, the United States imports 80-90% of its seafood. A simple trip to your local supermarket when you are craving tuna or shrimp is likely just a couple of minutes away. But do you ever think about the process or individuals who were involved in getting that food to your kitchen table?

When I first heard about ethical consumerism and product labeling, it was the summer before my first year of college. A friend was talking to me about the importance of fair trade labeling for coffee. She explained how fair trade certification kept companies accountable for just payment to their employees throughout the supply chain. This seemed like a beneficial endeavor to me, and I’ve kept it in mind since. Ethical consumerism came up again at my local parish in Colorado where only fair trade coffee is served. I was shocked to learn that engaging in ethical consumerism is a shared concern for both hippy-college students in Boulder and suburban daily Mass-goers in the suburbs of Denver

Catholic social teaching tells us to respect and support human dignity because we were created in the image and likeness of God. Yet our patterns of consumption can inhibit people living from a dignified life.

Human trafficking has become a global phenomenon that puts women, men, and children at risk. For example, in the seafood industry, tens of thousands of people are exploited due to the isolated nature of work on boats and lack of regulations. These vulnerable conditions can lead to forced labor, sexual servitude, and debt bondage.

All hope is not lost. We can use our power as consumers to help prevent and reduce these atrocities by becoming ethical consumers. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) began a campaign last Lent called “Labeling for Lent: An Effort to Prevent Human Trafficking”. This campaign began as an effort to raise awareness about the reality of human trafficking in the seafood industry. A survey was conducted asking consumers if they would like seafood companies to include labeling on their packaged products to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains. More than 2,000 participants supported such a step.

Personally, I’ve struggled with being an ethical consumer because of my budget. I grew up in an immigrant household were the priority was to feed five people, not to buy products of ethical companies. Real barriers can present themselves when trying to be a conscious consumer. But think about it this way: exploited workers don’t have an option. Individuals are stripped of their freedom and dignity thousands of miles away, and, yet, we as American consumers have the capacity to stop this injustice. I’m not asking you to radically change your entire shopping routine because frankly that’s unreasonable. I am simply asking you to keep in mind our Catholic social teaching on the dignity of every human and be mindful of the products you purchase and companies you consequently support.

In the words of our Holy Father for the 2015 World Day of Peace, “Together with the social responsibility of business, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic –act.” But this call is not limited to those of the Catholic faith – anyone can be an ethical consumer.

For more information on how to become an ethical consumer and an advocate against human trafficking, please visit:

Deisy Muñoz Viesca is a policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB. She is pursuing a degree in Political Science and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado – Boulder.


Going Deeper

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read about creative ways that faith communities are educating and acting to engage Catholics in supporting ethical trade, including a new fair trade program at a Catholic school, a fair trade coffeehouse and retreat by parish teens, and a Catholic university that helped start a fair trade cooperative.

On World Day Against Trafficking, Learn, Pray and Act

If you think that slavery in the United States ended in the nineteenth century, you would be wrong. There is an estimated 21 million individuals worldwide who have fallen victim to human trafficking, and many of them are here in the United States. July 30 is the World Day Against Human Trafficking.  It is an opportunity to learn about the issues, pray for the victims, and act.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 55% of trafficking victims are women and girls and a majority of victims are trapped in situations of labor trafficking and sexual exploitation. Pope Francis reminds us, “Modern slavery . . . is a crime against humanity. Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” Research and case studies have indicated that individuals in situations of forced migration, notably refugees and unaccompanied children, are often most vulnerable to traffickers.

The elimination of human trafficking, and providing assistance for trafficking victims, are of vital importance to the Catholic Church. The Church’s commitment to protect human life and dignity is the foundation for its work to eradicate this terrible crime. For over a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) has been a leader in the U.S. and global response to human trafficking. Through an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Trafficking in Persons, USCCB/MRS provides case management to foreign-born victims of trafficking and derivative family members as part of the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Other, more recent legislative victories, such as passage of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), have continued progress on this issue.

This year’s World Day Against Trafficking presents an opportunity for all Catholics to heed the call from the Scriptures and Pope Francis to care for those who are vulnerable. You can join the fight against human trafficking by following a few simple steps:

Today, remember to keep the victims of trafficking in your prayers, and join the USCCB in engaging citizens to become active in combatting trafficking and offering support for the many victims affected.

O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to freedom, so that the dignity of being your daughter and a bride of Christ could be recognized; grant, we pray, that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!

Nick Schmitz is a summer intern for USCCB Migration and Refugee Services and a student at the University of Maryland.

Going Deeper
Read a story about how one parish in Houston, TX, the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, is working with USCCB’s Amistad Movement to educate and fight against human trafficking.

How can you help stop human trafficking? Turn on the Light!

crs_light_candle_studio_300dpiHuman trafficking is modern-day slavery. With 21 million victims worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

Since human trafficking is a prevalent issue throughout the world, January has become Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It is during this month that Catholics Confront Global Poverty (CCGP), a partnership between USCCB and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with CRS Ethical Trade, have launched a campaign to bring light to this serious issue. Together we are telling everyone to “Turn On the Light” to human trafficking, so that the victims are no longer living in the shadows and can finally get the help that they need.

There are two simple ways you can help to stop human trafficking.

First, use your voice to let Congress know that it is important to you that human trafficking is stopped. There is an active action alert on the CCGP website ready for your participation. You can easily send an email to your members of Congress asking them to support much-needed legislation that would dissuade businesses and employers from creating environments in which human trafficking is encouraged or can be sustained.

Second, you can make a difference and support the victims of human trafficking by buying a fair trade candle from Prosperity Candle. These candles are handmade by women refugees trying to rebuild their lives in the United States. With every purchase a donation is made to support CRS programs, such as our anti-human trafficking projects, and you are supporting the creation of wages for refugee women.

Pope Francis said “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Therefore, he has “call[ed] on all people of goodwill to take action against human trafficking and new forms of slavery.”

This year we can work together to answer Pope Francis’ call and make a difference for the millions of people who are living as slaves around the globe.

With every email to a member of Congress and every candle sold, there is another flash of hope for the victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a serious issue and it is one that I have been passionate about ending since I first got a good look at its realities in college when I was working with CRS. I became aware of the situations society has created which allow modern day slavery to persist, and I knew I wanted to continue using my skills to put an end to it. CRS provides many great programs and is constantly working to create an atmosphere in which people can become educated and find ways to lend a hand. That is what we are doing through CCGP, and it is your help that is crucial to ending this plague on humanity.

Please join CCGP and CRS Ethical Trade and the thousands of people who have already taken action in this fight to end this modern-day slavery. You can get more information from our website on how you can help in this much needed effort.

clare-p-crsClare Pressimone is the Grassroots Advisor in the Advocacy Department of Catholic Relief Services. 


Going Deeper

Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB has developed a National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month toolkit, which features facts about human trafficking, ways to raise awareness about the issue, and a prayer card.

CRS Student Ambassadors: Inspired to be Light in the World

young brunette woman in a blue floral dress

Rita Marino, CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University

In life, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to the plight of others. Perhaps our lives appear too hectic or the issues too large. However, despite distance, race or circumstance, we are all brothers and sisters—part of God’s family. Our everyday decisions impact both the people and the environment around the globe.

It is when we disconnect from the consequences of our actions that the world suffers. It is when we fail to curb our material consumption, ignore the cries of those in pain, and worry only about ourselves, that we fall out of harmony with each other.

July 24, 2016, marked the beginning of a special multiday event where almost 120 students and staff, representing 47 colleges across the nation, united in Baltimore for the Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassador Leaders Together, or SALT, summit.

During the conference, ambassadors and advisors learned more about CRS’ primary concerns for the year—climate change, human trafficking, and migration, while indulging in fair trade coffee, and receiving training to strengthen collegiate chapters.

As a participant in the conference, I cannot shake the feeling of global interconnectedness, after hearing presentations about displaced Syrian families seeking resettlement, farms in Indonesia yielding miniature-sized corn because of climate change, and battered young women being coerced into sex trafficking. I realize just how connected we are as human beings.

In the words of CRS President and CEO Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, who spoke at the summit, “You are too young to be hopeless.” The world’s problems may appear too big of a hurdle, but it is our responsibility as Catholics—and as human beings—to approach both people and the land with love and respect.

One of the most important aspects of our hope is that although it may exist abstractly in our hearts, it is expressed tangibly in our actions. Ambassadors and staff possess the knowledge and conviction to not only hope for a better world, but also to actualize it. This was demonstrated on the last day of the summit when students met with U.S. senators and representatives to advocate for policies that support solidarity.

On my campus at Villanova University, we are living solidarity through efforts to combat climate change and help Syrian refugees. During the 2015-2016 school year, Villanova Ambassadors collected hundreds of advocacy letters for climate change during the Theology Colloquium, cosponsored the 3rd annual interfaith prayer vigil to benefit Syrian refugees, and organized a “5k run for refugees.” We look forward to seeing how we will incorporate the three issues of climate change, human trafficking, and migration into our work in this coming school year.

Through education, courage and our voices, positive change arises. May the year 2016-2017 school year be filled with strength and love.

Rita Marino is a CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University. She is a fall 2016 intern for the CRS Northeast and Mid-Atlantic office and a blogger for the CRS University blog.

The Catholic Relief Services SALT Summit brought together college and university student leaders and advisors July 24–26 to learn how to organize and engage their campuses to work for global solidarity through CRS. Watch this video from Catholic News Service to learn more about their efforts:

Through the CRS Student Ambassador program, CRS trains chapters of student leaders to mobilize their peers and bring to life the mission of global solidarity on campus.

St. Josephine Bakhita: Our “Universal Sister”

bakhita

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey

As Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at USCCB prepares to host its historic Interfaith Prayer Service for Victims of Human Trafficking on February 8, it is fitting to pause for a moment and consider St. Josephine Bakhita, an extraordinary woman whose life the Church celebrates on that day.

When St. John Paul II canonized St. Josephine, he proclaimed her the “Universal Sister.” Considering that Pontiff´s lifelong struggle against tyranny and oppression of all sorts, the logic behind that proclamation is clearly seen. Slavery, an ancient evil that shackles bodies and souls, is cruelly alive and well today, destroying the lives of people around the world, It is a “universal injustice.” St. Josephine´s life reminds us that within the heart of every enslaved person is the divine image yearning to be free, for “the glory of God is a human being fully alive,” as St. Irenaeus so forcefully declared.

As human trafficking increases its devastating onslaught worldwide, God shows us an intrepid example of empowerment and dignity in this audacious saint. Born to a virtuous animist family in late 19th century Sudan, at the age of nine Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped by Arab slavers. She endured a succession of brutal “owners” who degraded, tortured, and, in a manner alike many traffickers today, “branded” her with tattoos denoting ownership.  Eventually she became servant a noble Venetian family, who took her to Italy, where she served as the children´s much beloved nanny. Because the family needed to tend to their business interests in Africa, however, St. Josephine was left at the Institute of the Catechumens for a year, in the care of the Canossian Sisters.

For the family who wanted to hold on to their slave, this was a big mistake. For, with the Sisters St. Josephine first heard the most radically liberating message in human history: Christ had died for her, and she was beloved from all eternity by Him, who she recognized as “that God who from childhood I had felt in my heart without knowing who he was.” When Lady Turina, her former “owner,” came back for her, St. Josephine had already made her choice: “No, I will not leave the house of the Lord.” The next few days were intense, with Turina threatening and harassing Josephine Bakhita and the Sisters. Finally, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice himself came and defended St. Josephine´s freedom, armed with a favorable verdict from the kingdom´s attorney general.

Like many traffickers today, Lady Turina tried to use “love” as a mechanism of control, the love that the saint had for the household´s children. To no avail: “It was the Lord who filled me with such firmness, because he wanted to make me all His.”

In the words of the Archbishop of Khartoum, a pastor in an enslaved land, we entrust the vulnerable to her intercession: “All of you who are refugees, oppressed, exhausted, and without a roof—you are `Bakhita.’ All of you who are victims of injustice and exploitation, victims of discrimination and of persecution—you are `Bakhita.` And God´s love and tenderness embrace you.”

We hope that all readers residing in Washington will join us in person on February 8 to lift up our voices in prayer for the freedom of trafficking victims. If you are not in Washington, you can consider organizing a prayer service or gathering on February 8. Visit our website for more details: http://www.usccb.org/about/anti-trafficking-program/day-of-prayer.cfm and download the Interfaith Prayer Service Invite.

Prayer is spiritual action, as St. Josephine reminded us before departing: “If the Lord allows it, I will send so many graces from paradise for the salvation of souls.” Let´s take her up on that promise.

 

IMG_0068Christopher S. Ljungquist is the National Outreach and Education coordinator for USCCB/MRS Anti-Trafficking Program. If you have any questions about the Interfaith Prayer Service on February 8, contact him at: CLJUNGQUIST@USCCB.ORG

The Devastating Effect of Irresponsible Mining Practices

miningFor over forty years, I ministered around the Appalachian coalfields. Because of this, I was invited to Rome, July 17-19, 2015, to represent the mountains at “United with God, We Hear a Cry,” a conference dealing with communities affected by mining activities.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Latin American “Churches and Mining” network, the meeting convened grass-roots representatives from 18 countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and the Philippines.

Transnational mining corporations exert disproportionate power over most local communities with negative results, which raises grave concerns for Rome. Too frequently, the mining practices violate the human rights of workers, destroy local environments, introduce negative health impacts, greatly enable substance abuse, allow prostitution and human trafficking, threaten local cultures, and have ties to organized crime.

After citing many of these abuses, Pope Francis in a letter to the participants stated clearly: “The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries.”

The stories from the participants underscored that sentiment.

A representative from the native peoples of Canada said a breached mine tailing dam in upper British Columbia released 25 million cubic meters of debris into Lake William and polluted the crystal clear lake where 80 million salmon spawn.

Worse, a Philippine village witnessed the killing of the mayor’s wife and two sons, because he opposed the mining practices. Others in the village received the “blanket” threat–the symbol of wrapping for death. Continuously participants told stories from mining practices. They told about violence, dishonesty, and theft, besides testimonials about pollution, destruction, and sickness.

Shortly after returning from Rome, I toured with Bishop John Stowe, our new bishop of Lexington, KY, around the nearby coalfields. We heard stories similar to those from the international conference.

One family we met contracted with a company to mine 70 acres for coal, but instead saw the company illegally mine 90 acres, allegedly because the company changed the property map.

Another fellow said the blasting from mining caused a separation in his brick home large enough to put his fist into the gap.

Still another complained the mining company never paid him the agreed amount for the coal that they mined. Instead, he found the payments delayed until the company declared bankruptcy, and then he witnessed operations resumed under a different name without the liability.

Add to these stories the discarded miners with black lung, the numerous kids with asthma and the increased rates of cancer for women attributed to mining practices, and we can see that Appalachia unfortunately shares much of the same dishonesty, theft, and despoiled environment that breeds sickness and human distress discussed at the international conference.

On the local level, Catholic parishes not only respond to victims of mining-induced floods and mudslides always by supplying temporary shelters and home furnishings, but also conducting community prayer services. These services bring spiritual healing and insight by directing prayer against mining injustices.

Nationally, people of faith must awaken to the link between the demand for mine products and their lifestyles.

Conference participants acknowledged the need to train bishops, priests, and seminarians about Laudato Sí, and extend this to all the faithful. Dialogue within the church and with mining interests remains key, while divestiture from businesses supporting bad practices requires action.

Ultimately, we people of faith must reflect the teachings from Laudato Sí and pursue an integral ecology that links the poor, the earth, and human community in the web of life. 

headshot of Fr. John Rausch

 

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches, writes and organizes around justice issues in Appalachia.

Responding to Pope Francis’ Call to Fight Human Trafficking

IMG_0068Today, July 30, is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Within weeks of the historical papal transition in 2013, Msgr. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, received a succinct, hand-written note in Spanish from the newly elected Supreme Pontiff: “I think it would be good to examine human trafficking and modern slavery. Organ trafficking could be examined in connection with human trafficking. Many thanks, Francis.” Those few lines came to signal Pope Francis’ ardent insistence that the Universal Church bring to bear her great moral authority and resources in the global fight against human trafficking. In his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis forcefully urges the faithful, and all men and women of goodwill, to radically evaluate unknowing societal and personal complicity in this crime, echoing the convicting question God posed to Cain in the book of Genesis after he had murdered his brother, Abel: “‘Where is your brother?’ (Gen. 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor?”

As he prepares for his Apostolic Visit to our country, Pope Francis can be proud of his brother bishops in the United States.  USCCB/Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), since 2013, has been implementing the Amistad Movement, a novel human trafficking prevention program that capitalizes on the gifts and talents of the very communities most at-risk for human trafficking. Firmly anchored in our Catholic commitment to subsidiarity and accompaniment, and utilizing a “train-the-trainer” model, the Amistad Movement uses the Church’s extensive, trusted, grassroots presence within immigrant communities to educate local leaders, pastors, parents, students, activists, and interested community members on precise strategies designed to protect their own against human traffickers.  Therein lies Amistad´s greatest strength: MRS educates immigrant communities in a spirit of self-empowerment that leverages the immigrant leaders’ expertise and strengths to make our human trafficking prevention education as culturally relevant and intelligible as possible. Amistad also fosters collaboration amongst community members and between them and law enforcement and other stakeholders, further fortifying their communities against human trafficking by constructing professional and social networks.

For Catholics who might ask themselves how they can contribute to the Church’s efforts against modern slavery now, MRS anti-trafficking encourages them to request the SHEPHERD toolkit by emailing us at MRSShepherd@usccb.org. This educational tool provides Catholics with materials to learn about human trafficking from a Catholic perspective using principles from the Social Doctrine of the Church to understand why Catholics in particular are called to raise awareness and respond to human trafficking wherever they can. In addition to information on human trafficking, the toolkit provides a movie-watching guide which can be used as a springboard for discussion and further learning about human trafficking. The kit also has a Stations of the Cross for Victims of Human Trafficking, which can be used to pray for victims, survivors, service providers, and awareness raisers, and to continue educating Catholic communities on modern day slavery.

The Church’s great strength in this fight against human trafficking is its empowering message against slavery of all types, spiritual and physical. In the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, “Our awareness must expand and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches . . . from awareness to prayer . . .  from prayer to solidarity . . . and from solidarity to concerted action, until slavery and trafficking are no more.”

Christopher S. Ljungquist is National Outreach and Education Coordinator, Anti-Trafficking, for the USCCB Department of Migration and Refugee Services.

Lost in the Shadows

Matt Wilch photoAfter checking in with security, the officer led us through the main gate to his car for the trip to the prison-inside-a-prison. We had driven through much of Athens, Greece—a modern city with large, preserved displays of her ancient, heralded past. We travelled to the outskirts of the city, to this prison at the foot of some rocky, dusty hills. As we drove across the grounds to the inner prison we could see that like the outer perimeter, it had a heavy cyclone fence with razor wire on top. It was not old-fashioned barbed wire with metal thorns spaced out every few inches, but razor wire like the jagged teeth of a wide bladed bandsaw twisted in an endless helix along the top of the entire fence.  Inside the fence were a half dozen or so, small, bread-box shaped module homes like the kind used to house people made homeless by a hurricane.

As we entered the compound we saw a sign on the wall warning that if you applied for asylum you would remain inside for at least one year.

At any given time, Athens has some 250,000 undocumented people from other countries, many of them asylum seekers forced to flee from conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

This prison-inside-a-prison holds forty unaccompanied Afghan boys and youth from ages 12 to 17.   A fellow colleague from USCCB Migration and Refugee Services and I interviewed almost half of them.  Some had recently fled from Afghanistan to escape continuing threat by the Taliban. Others had fled to Greece after unsuccessfully trying to find refuge in Iran or in Turkey.  Despite their grim surroundings and the traumas many of them had already suffered in their countries or during their travels through foreign lands, they were clinging to wide-eyed plans to find their way to Sweden or England or the United States, even though almost none of them had connections of any kind in any of those places. All that they knew was that they could not stay where they were, and they had heard that those places were better.

Most had taken recent harrowing journeys at the mercy of human smugglers and traffickers, travelling across the Aegean Sea from the west coast of Turkey. They had been rescued from the sea near one of twenty or so Greek Islands—only to be transferred to this detention center in Athens. They were often the oldest boy in their respective families.  For one 14-year-old youth, his parents had both died and his efforts and dreams were fueled by the desire to send money back to his four younger brothers and sisters.

These Afghan youth and other unaccompanied refugee children are often remarkable, resilient kids, who are largely out of sight and out of mind in the shadow of the Syrian refugee crisis and other large refugee crises. They do not deserve detention and harsh enforcement. They deserve our advocacy and our help.

One viable option for some of the children is resettlement to a third country, such as the United States, which has a strong program for such youth. For World Refugee Day celebrated June 20, in solidarity with refugees around the world, urge your Senators and Representative to be champions for unaccompanied refugee children like those described above by increasing the funding for the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program of the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services to $137 million. Urge Congress to build up U.S. capacity to help unaccompanied refugee children and also share U.S. expertise and resources for resettlement to other countries around the world.

Matthew Wilch is a Refugee Policy Advisor for the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Srevices. See Refuge and Hope in the Time of ISIS for further findings and recommendations concerning unaccompanied children impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis.  See also The United States Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program: Guiding Principles and Promising Practices.

Combating the Culture of Enslavement 

Ashley Feasley, USCCB

Ashley Feasley, USCCB

June 12th is the World Day against Child Labor. The most recent global estimates suggest some 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in child labor, with boys and girls in this age group almost equally affected.  The issue of child labor is not just an overseas problem, but exists in our own backyard. Children, particularly immigrant children, are vulnerable to forced labor here in North America, whether in domestic servitude, in farming and agricultural operations, or in forced begging or door to door sales schemes. For example, in Mexico, migrant children frequently work to harvest agricultural crops destined for the U.S. with their parents, despite obvious dangers to their physical health and development.

Pope Francis has spoken extensively about the harm that child labor causes. During last year’s World Day against Child Labor, he stated that the persistence of child labor is rooted in several factors including poverty and lack of decent work for adults, lack of social protection. The Holy Father has urged us to “renew our commitment, especially families, to ensure the tutelage of every boy’s and girl’s dignity and the chance to grow up healthy.”

Continuing his call to address root causes related to child and forced labor, human trafficking, and modern slavery, Pope Francis entitled his annual message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, on January 1, 2015, “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters.” In that message, Holy Father extorted organizations in civil society to awaken consciences and promote whatever steps are necessary for combating and uprooting the culture of enslavement.  He also called upon businesses to ensure dignified working conditions and to be vigilant to ensure that forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into companies’ distribution chains. Lastly, he called upon every person to be aware that purchasing is always a moral—and not simply an economic—act.

When examining the root causes of child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking, it is hard to see where we as individuals can begin to understand and combat the problem. Yet, Pope Francis highlights an important part of combatting child and forced labor—looking at global supply chains and encouraging businesses to remove human trafficking and forced and child labor from their distribution chains and allowing consumers to consume more mindfully and ethically. Governments are taking note of this movement and doing their part as well. Soon a bill will be introduced that aims to help make businesses more aware of their use of child and forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery.  Supply chain legislation would require certain companies to report to the U.S. government about efforts to address human trafficking, forced and child labor, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children within their business operations and list that information on their websites. These disclosures would allow consumers to make informed decisions about what products they buy and which socially responsible companies to invest in.

Supply chain legislation represents an important step in answering Pope Francis’s call to combat and uproot the culture of enslavement.  An important action that we as individual Catholics can take is to be ethical consumers. We must make every effort to purchase goods not connected to child labor, worker abuses, or human trafficking.” In this way, we can heed Holy Father’s words and erase this “scourge of humanity” from the world in our lifetime.

Ashley Feasley is a policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.