By: Kristen Whitney Daniels

The panel discussion on "10 Years of Catholic Religious Sisters Combatting Human Trafficking Around the World."In 2013, the United Nation’s General Assembly designated July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to "raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights." This year, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of this day of observance, the Holy See Mission held an event at the United Nations honoring the work religious sisters have done to support those who have been trafficked.

The event, "10 years of Catholic Religious Sisters Combatting Human Trafficking Around the World," brought a panel front and center to discuss how religious sisters have and continue to serve the victims and survivors of human trafficking across the world.

Sr. Gabriella Bottani — a sister of Comboni Missionaries — the international coordinator of Talitha Kum, spoke about her experience with this international organization. Talitha Kum is an international network of consecrated religious to fight against trafficking in persons. The network is now represented in 77 countries and five continents and is a project of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and collaborates with the Union of Superiors General (USG). Sr. Gabriella said that Talitha Kum’s aim is to strengthen networks that are already in place between women religious, the government, and the local areas they serve in. This then helps empower other religious sisters to take action in their communities.

The opening reception for Lisa Kristine's "Nuns Healing Hearts" exhibit at the United Nations July 29, 2019.In 2018, Talitha Kum reached 15,500 survivors and prevented the trafficking of 135,000 persons, according to Sr. Gabriella. They help provide a "victim-centered approach" which includes shelter, social reintegration, skill-building, education, and scholarship. Another large portion of their work is providing education to the public on the root causes of trafficking in humans and to enhance the response to this issue.

Sr. Melissa Camardo, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, also spoke on the panel. She works with the Safe Housing Program at LifeWay Network in New York City, which "provid[es] a safe, welcoming home for the women survivors living in our safe houses through tutoring, skill development, mentoring, and shift coverage." In addition to direct service, education of the public is a key element to the program.

During the panel, Sr. Melissa discussed the importance of encounter and accompaniment in order to help survivors thrive. Sr. Melissa lives in community with the survivors in the Safe Housing Program, where they share everything from housing to cooking to their hearts. Ansa Noreen, an alumna of the Safe Housing Program and another panelist at the event, reiterated the importance of accompaniment to her success. Noreen, who was trafficked from her native Pakistan after a forced marriage, spoke fondly of her time in the program and how the intentional community helped with her healing. Noreen now works with LifeWay Network’s "Welcoming and Inspiring New Growth as Sisters (WINGS)" Restorative Community Mentorship Program. She gives back by mentoring to LifeWay’s network of survivors, which currently totals over a 100 survivors since 2012.

Following the panel, the Holy See Mission officially launched esteemed photographer Lisa Kristine’s photographic exhibition "Nuns Healing Hearts" at the United Nations. The traveling photo exhibit, which kicked off May 10 at the Vatican with Pope Francis, features images of those caught in the throes of human trafficking, as well as the people who help serve these individuals. These "images of hope…show daily gestures of sisterhood, encounters caring for wounded dignity and journey towards freedom made together. Conquering the evil of trafficking in persons with good is a subversive action that condemns any kind of exploitation," Sr. Gabriella writes on the Nuns Healing Hearts website. Featured on the website homepage is an image of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet-Los Angeles marching in an anti-trafficking protest in Los Angeles.

[Kristen Whitney Daniels is assistant director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]

Images from Lisa Kristine's "Nuns Healing Hearts" exhibit at the United Nations July 29, 2019.                             Image from Lisa Kristine's "Nuns Healing Hearts" exhibit at the United Nations July 29, 2019.Image from Lisa Kristine's "Nuns Healing Hearts" exhibit at the United Nations July 29, 2019.