“Ten of millions of persons” presently suffer from “physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation,” Pope Francis said Tuesday. He declared that this “modern slavery–in the form of trafficking in persons, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking–is a crime ‘against humanity.'”
Francis was meeting with an international group of religious leaders gathered in the Vatican for the signing of a declaration against slavery and human trafficking, which Francis called a “terrible scourge,” a situation he said “is getting worse every day.”
In a historic encounter, leaders of the world’s religions–Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists–met to sign the declaration that calls for the eradication of modern slavery, on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
“Every human being–man, woman, boy, or girl–is the image of God,” the Pope said. “God is love and freedom, who gives himself in interpersonal relationships; and so every human being is a free person, destined to live for the good of others, in equality and fraternity. Each and every person is equal, sharing in the same freedom and the same dignity.”
“Any discriminatory relationship that does not respect the fundamental conviction that the other is ‘like myself’ is a crime, and many times an aberrant crime,” the Pope added.
Pope Francis was joined, among others, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, representing Anglicans; Rabbis Abraham Skorka and David Rosen, representing Jews; Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi, representing Hindus; and several Muslim leaders including the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi and Sheikh Omar Abboud.
Pope Francis has made the elimination of human trafficking and modern slavery one of the priorities of his pontificate, and has instructed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to focus on it in their academic conferences and studies.
“We cannot tolerate that the image of the living God is subjected to this horrendous commerce,” he said.
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome