In World Day of Peace message, Francis urges 'not to become accomplices' to human trafficking

Sex workers and their children take part in an Aug. 14, 2014, demonstration seeking better rights and a halt to girl trafficking in the red-light area of Kolkata, India. Human trafficking destroys the lives of millions of children, women and men each year, ma king it a real threat to peace, the Vatican said as it announced Pope Francis' 2015 World Peace Day message would focus on the phenomenon. (CNS photo/Pial Adhikary, EPA)

Pope Francis on Wednesday made a forceful and personal plea for the end of modern-day slavery, calling on governments, communities and individuals globally "not to become accomplices" to human trafficking and exploitation in their myriad forms.

Issuing the annual papal message for the World Day of Peace, celebrated by the church each Jan. 1, Francis called slavery a "global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country."

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The Vatican released Francis' message Wednesday during a press conference partly headlined by several women religious from across the world who have been working against human trafficking. They shared intense stories about how those they work with, especially women, have been treated.

"Try putting a hand over the mouth and scream," said Comboni Missionary Sr. Gabriella Bottani at the conference. "The cry is stifled, dumb, no one listens to it."

"This is one of the dynamics that we use in Brazil to speak of trafficking in persons," she said. "The hand represents a socioeconomic system that tries to hide the suffering it causes, making silent the cry of the victims."

Bottani, a native Italian who served for several years in Brazil, is the head of Talitha Kum, an international network of women religious fighting human trafficking.

Women religious, she said, "have chosen to welcome these uncomfortable voices because they tell us that this socioeconomic system is a huge human racket. The suffering of the victims delegitimizes the roots of power built on profit."

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