Pope Francis has called human trafficking a scourge upon the Body of Christ in the world today. It is a deep wound that treats certain members of body as “less than,” by abusing and exploiting them for someone else’s material gain. Rather than seeing people as living members of the body, imbued with dignity and rights, traffickers and consumers treat their victims like commodities that can be bought and sold, discarded and replaced within this larger “throw-away culture.” Human trafficking is a wound that impacts all of us, as one Body, because as our 2nd reading reminds us today, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” And there is not only one part suffering, there are an estimated 40 million parts, beautiful, precious members of the Body of Christ, who are suffering around the world at any given moment as victims of human trafficking.
This month of January here in the United States is a national month of awareness and education to help prevent and end slavery and human trafficking. As the Executive Director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, a national faith-based organization dedicated to ending human trafficking and supporting survivors of human trafficking, I am acutely aware of just how much this horrific crime is harming our collective body. It impacts all of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. Both sex and labor trafficking is happening in our communities, and through many of the products or services we purchase regularly.
The Gospel passage today then presents us with our call to action, given this reality of the way that human beings, members of the Body of Christ, continue to be enslaved, abused, and exploited today. I see this reading from Luke as Jesus’ mission statement as he begins his public ministry, quoting these words first spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, has come into the world “to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” That’s a big and powerful mission, and one we, as the Body of Christ in the world today are called to continue – to proclaim liberty to the captives and let the oppressed go free. This is our work here at US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, and our work as the body of Christ.
The Good News is, even though this is a big mission, we don’t have to do it alone, and we don’t have to do it all. The end of our second reading today reminds us that God has given each member of the Body their own unique gifts to contribute in many different ways. Maybe you are called to help educate and teach others about human trafficking – that is good and important work. Maybe you are called to be an advocate and work to change laws or policy – that is good and important work. Maybe you are called to work directly with survivors of human trafficking as they heal and thrive – that is good an important work. Because human trafficking is a global crime that intersects with many other justice issues like climate change, systemic racism, gender equality, migration issues, and transforming our economic systems – there are many ways to get involved and make an impact. And we need all members, doing their part, to really make a difference.
I’d like to end with the beautiful words of St. Teresa of Avila who captures well this message of our readings today, reminding us of the gift and the responsibility of being the Body of Christ in the world today. She says, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which He looks Compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.”
Go, and be the Body of Christ in the world, proclaiming Good News to the poor and the vulnerable, liberating those held captive and oppressed through human trafficking, and opening the eyes and hearts of those who would rather not see this wound that is harming our collective body and wellbeing.
Jennifer Reyes Lay
Jennifer Reyes Lay
Jennifer Reyes Lay is the first Executive Director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT). She believes strongly in the vision of a world without slavery and exploitation. Prior to this role Jennifer served as the Assistant Director of the JPIC Office for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word - San Antonio, a congregation she first connected with as a lay missionary in Peru. It was in working with the Incarnate Word Sisters that she began learning more about human trafficking and connected with USCSAHT, representing the U.S. network at an international gathering in Bogota, Colombia in 2017 and subsequent gatherings. Through her role with USCSAHT, which is the U.S. network of Talitha Kum, Jennifer continues to stay connected to networks of women religious throughout the world working to end human trafficking and support survivors. Jennifer has a Master of Divinity from Eden Theological Seminary, and an honors B.A. in Theology and International Studies from St. Louis University. She currently lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband Roger and their dog Bella where she enjoys spending time outdoors, gardening, singing, dancing, reading, and writing.
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