Sisters launch 'Play for Life' in advance of major sports events in Brazil

A press conference May 20 at the Vatican launches the "Play for Life" campaign included Sr. Estrella Castalone, coordinator of Talitha Kum and Prefect Cardinal Dom Joao Braz di Aviz. (Courtesy of Talitha Kum)

The month-long FIFA World Cup soccer championship is right around the corner. However, festive anticipation has been brought up short by protests. The poor are rebelling against the fact that so much is being spent on games while they do not have health care or other important service.

Sisters have joined protests, also concerned about poverty that encourages trafficking of workers and sexual exploitation during these world sports events. According to one report, “. . . border controls will be virtually impossible to contain the flow of people from the neighboring countries in search of job opportunities. School closures will give opportunities to students from the rural areas flock to the cities, easy targets for syndicates without conscience.”

A demonstrator is detained by riot police during a protest against Governor Sergio Cabral Filho, near his residence in Rio de Janeiro in early July 2013. Construction of facilities in Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics was in full swing last year when a wave of street protests swept through the country.

As at the 2010 games in South Africa, sisters are on the front line organizing a new campaign: “Play for Life,” untiringly educating about and protesting the trafficking of women, girls, children and men. The conference of women religious of Brazil is working with Talitha Kum, the Rome-based worldwide network of sisters against trafficking and contemporary slavery. This time, the Vatican is supporting their efforts, according to Sr. Estrella Castalone, coordinator of Talitha Kum.

At the press conference held May 20 at the Vatican to launch the campaign, Prefect Cardinal Dom Joao Braz di Aviz, head of the Congregation of Consecrated Life and Institutes of Apostolic Life quoted Pope Francis’ calling trafficking “a wound in the flesh of Christ.” Kenneth Francis Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, expressed gratitude to the sisters for their work to end this scourge against humanity, saying the sisters are “the unknown heroines” working directly with the victims, advocating for them and organizing others to join in these efforts.

Talitha Kum held its first congress in 2009 in Rome, where sisters trained in the work of anti-trafficking education and rescue gathered to share their experiences and plan for future strategies to engage sisters worldwide in this work. I was fortunate to participate in this event where I met sisters from about 50 countries, primarily from “sending” countries. The energy and commitment generated there have become a fire that only continues to grow around the world as, country by country, sisters organize against this crime against humanity. To date Talitha Kum has 24 networks of 240 congregations of religious representing 79 countries.

Sisters in every pastoral section of Brazil launched their countrywide campaign, “Play for Life – denounce human trafficking” on May 14, according to Sr. Gabrella Botani, SMC, president of the Conference of Religious of Brazil. A walk is planned in June – to remember the victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. More stories of activities in Brazil will appear on the Global Sisters Report in the coming weeks. Report of the press conference held at the Vatican can be found here.

[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is the international liaison to women religious for Global Sisters Report.]