Sisters take information on the road so others can help end it in Wisconsin.
by Renae Bauer
published August 2017
Which statement is true:
- Approximately 26,000 Wisconsin children run away each year, putting them at risk of being trafficked.
- Milwaukee is the “pimp capital” of the world.
- Slavery is more common today than when it was abolished in 1865.
- All of the above.
Tragically, the answer is number 4, which is why so many religious communities, bishops and Pope Francis are talking about human trafficking and the need to end it.
Sisters Francis Bangert and Mary Berg have begun an anti-human trafficking educational ministry which they are taking to parishes across the state. Through their presentation the Sisters are raising awareness of how much human trafficking is happening in Wisconsin and how the Catholic Church is responding.
“People think human trafficking is happening in developing countries only, that it’s not around here,” says Sister Mary. But nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, Wisconsin is part of a sex trafficking route which runs from Chicago north through Milwaukee, Appleton and Green Bay then west to the Twin Cities. “It’s an eye-opener,” Sister adds.
“Often, when we finish our presentations audience members can’t believe that trafficking is happening under our noses,” says Sister Francis. “The disbelief -- because you just don’t think this could happen here to our kids.”
Both Sisters became aware of human trafficking in 2011 when the Franciscan Federation and Leadership Conference of Women Religious both approved resolutions calling for prayer and the end of human trafficking. These resolutions inspired the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross to learn more about the issue which resulted in the approval of their Corporate Stance on Modern Slavery in 2013.
According to Sister Francis, the Catholic Church has addressed human trafficking for decades.
“Way back in 1965 there was already attention being drawn to modern slavery as a critical issue. Then the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral letter Church in the Modern World talked again about dishonoring our Creator God through actions of this kind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has information on modern slavery. Pope Benedict spoke about the things that contribute to trafficking like poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, desire for adventure,” she says. “And Pope Francis says we cannot remain indifferent knowing that humans are being bought and sold like goods.”
The Sisters stress the importance of knowing how consumerism plays a role in human trafficking.
“There is a connection between human trafficking and the food I eat and the clothes I wear and the entertainment I enjoy,” says Sister Francis. “All of that is connected back to men, women and children who work for low wages or none in terrible conditions to produce all this stuff we enjoy.”
Sister Mary says one way to learn how our purchases impact enslavement is to visit www.slaveryfootprint.org where the homepage asks, “How many slaves work for you?” The site’s self-assessment tool points to the size of our homes, the digital devices we own, and the clothes we purchase as contributing to slavery.
Ultimately, both Sisters pray that their efforts and those of others will encourage people to see trafficking victims in the same way St. Francis of Assisi saw lepers. “He was called to a change of heart upon meeting a leper and kissing a leper whom he despised. That was the beginning of the turn-around in his life. He cared for lepers,” explains Sister Francis. “We have lepers today. We have women and men who are being looked down upon and despised worse than animals. That’s a sin. That is against everything that is Franciscan. We, too, are called to take care of the ‘lepers’ whether it’s a physical leper or a spiritual leper.”
TRAFFICKING TALK: Sister Francis Bangert, left, and Sister Mary Berg give a presentation at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay. (Renae Bauer photo)
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