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Church rallies as ‘One Body in Christ’ to eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking


Members of ACRATH and supporting Archdiocesan agencies attended Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 30 July to raise awareness on the issue of modern slavery on the United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons. Photo: Amanda Murthy.

By Amanda Murthy

Bishops and leaders of the Catholic community in Western Australia united on Thursday 30 July to raise awareness about modern slavery, in line with the United Nations’ 2020 World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

The Archdiocese of Perth, Catholic Education Western Australia Ltd (CEWA), the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) and St John of God Health Care – with the support of the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) – were among the many Catholic agencies, organisations, parishes and schools who made a stand against the issue.

In a letter to the public for the occasion, ACRATH President Sister Louise Cleary CSB thanked those who have supported and worked hard through “donations, advocacy, campaign work and prayer.


WACMRO Director Permanent Deacon Gregory Lowe preached about the need to “cast the net” of human rights due diligence, which is simply secular language for neighbour love to all people during midday Mass held at St Mary’s Cathedral and morning Mass at St Michael the Archangel Chapel on 30 July. Photo: Amanda Murthy.

“We have seen the passing of a law in 2013 banning Forced Marriages in Australia, however with 93 active cases of forced marriages in 2019, our work in this area is far from over,” Sr Cleary explained.

“The passing of the Modern Slavery Act in 2018 after a decade of focussed advocacy and later this year we will see, for the first time, companies with an income in excess of 100 million, report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.

“Fifteen years ago it was very difficult to buy slavery-free products in Australia, but with letter-writing campaigns led to massive changes that have made a huge difference to the lives of people in developing countries and we now have fair-trade tea, coffee and chocolate in most supermarkets and cafes,” she added.

Two Mass services were dedicated to the cause locally on Thursday 30 July, beginning with morning Mass at CEWA’s St Michael the Archangel Chapel in Leederville, celebrated by Fr George Kolodziej SDS and assisted by Deacon Greg Lowe, followed by midday Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, celebrated by Fr Richard Rutkauskas and also assisted by Deacon Greg Lowe.


Father Richard Rutkauskas (right), assisted by Deacon Greg Lowe (centre), celebrates the Eucharist at St Mary’s Cathedral on Thursday 30 July as Australia united to raise awareness on the issue of modern slavery. Photo: Amanda Murthy.

In his homily, Dcn Lowe preached about the need to “cast the net” of human rights due diligence, which is simply secular language for neighbour love, in order to fulfil our baptismal promises.

“We are doing this because our faith is not only private and inward but social and outward, always offering protective hospitality to those in need,” Dcn Lowe stated.

“We are doing this because the time is right and we cannot remain complicit and we do this because we should never enslave others, ever, regardless of who they are or where they are from.

“So, let us not be too patient but begin the work of incarnating the Gospel anew though, with and in the eradication of slavery from our Catholic communities in Western Australia, and let’s start by diving deep into our supply chains to recover those that are lost, both old and new, restoring them to a life of freedom that we know God would want for them because we would want it for ourselves if it were to ever happen to us,” he added.


Catholic Education Western Australia staff attended morning Mass at St Michael the Archangel Chapel in Leederville on 30 July, celebrated by Salvatorian priest Fr George Kolodziej SDS (right), and assisted by Dcn Greg Lowe. Photo: Matthew Lau.

Along with the Mass, ACRATH held a 10-minute prayer via Zoom among its members, distributed prayer cards and flyers to Archdiocesan parishes and sold handmade bags (made by Myanmar women) in selected parishes.

“All profits will be reinvested in sewing machines and women are paid to teach and produce the bags (most of these women have had no access to any education), ACRATH volunteer Rosa Ranieri cited. 

“This in turn will help them to provide for their families, thereby removing the risk of trafficking in the absence of paid work.” 

Perth Vicar for Social Outreach and Archdiocesan Chief Operations Officer, Dr Terry Wilson who attended the morning events, spoke about the Church’s social teaching on the workforce.

“The Church (in Rerum Novarem 1891) has taught that work is to be considered as one of the principal means by which people seek personal fulfilment, dignity and make their contribution to the common good,” Dr Wilson said.

“Therefore, people should not be treated like a resource or a commodity in the marketplace.

“Opposed to the utilitarian view of work, in which humans are treated the same as any resource that is applied to the production process, Pope St John Paul II affirmed the dignity of work by making a distinction between objective work (the visible aspects of work such as the tasks done) and subjective work (the value of the work because it is a purposeful act of a person, thereby adding a spiritual dimension that we should apply,” he added.

“Slavery is an extreme form of treating people as ‘human resources’ and must, therefore, be strongly opposed.”


A few members of the Perth Archdiocese’s anti-slavery working party pose for a photo after the 8.30am Mass for World Day of Trafficking in Humans Mass at St Michael the Archangel Chapel in Leederville on 30 August. Photo: Matthew Lau.

At the conclusion of the 8.30am Mass, Catholic Education Western Australia Ltd (CEWA) staff also attended a supplier engagement workshop facilitated by a human rights and environmental consultancy and guided by the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network (ACAN) as part of a slavery risk management program.

CEWA Executive Director Dr Debra Sayce echoed the words of Pope Francis who called modern slavery ‘a crime against humanity’.

“Today we took the opportunity to mark the UN World Day Against Trafficking in Persons with a special Mass,” she said.

“Several members of both school and office staff then spent time in a supplier engagement workshop, learning about the complexities of modern slavery and the potential that CEWA, as a Catholic community and member of the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network, has to impact change through wise and informed choices in our purchasing decisions and through strategic engagement with suppliers.”

University of Notre Dame Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of Fremantle Campus Professor Selma Alliex shared similar sentiments with The eRecord, describing the cause as “a really important mission for the Catholic community to follow”.

“We must lead by example in this area. We always talk about neighbourly love – well this is our opportunity to demonstrate that to people who are in need, particularly people who are being trafficked,” Prof Alliex stated.

Archdiocesan agency Catholic Youth Ministry and the young Catholic community of Perth pledged their support by dedicating its weekly ‘Holy Hour’ to the “World Day of Trafficking in Humans” campaign on 29 July.