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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102 (Suppl.), December 2006








1. Who are the participants and what are the objectives of the meeting?

A. We will have some sixty representatives of the Episcopal Conferences, religious congregations, associations and institutions, from about twenty countries, mostly European, but also with the presence of delegates coming from Latin America, Africa and Asia. This will allow the reflections and the sharing of experiences (which is the aim of the meeting) to have a worldwide perspective, in as far as is possible.

Naturally our objective is pastoral, in the context of human mobility, including also the trafficking and smuggling of human beings, which has resulted in the presence of many women of the street in the so-called First World countries. These women come from the Second, Third and Fourth World. According to the calculations of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about half a million women, coming from Eastern Europe, are held as slaves and forced into prostitution in Western Europe. Here is another figure, this time concerning Italy. It is believed that 50% of the sex market here exploits Nigerian women.

Going back to our meeting, it is meant to create a greater awareness of this tragedy and bring about cooperation, with some coordination, among the existing initiatives carried out in this specific pastoral area, and get the involvement of the ordinary pastoral care of the dioceses and also of the parishes.  

2. What are the features of the “phenomenon” of prostitution?

A. The problem has many aspects: migration, family and social deficiencies, economic problems, exploitation, trafficking of human beings, etc. Certainly there is a commitment - on the part of governmental and non-governmental organizations, and of those linked to the United Nations – to combat the slavery of the street, where money, pleasure and exploitation are all mixed together. 

The “phenomenon” – let’s call it such – involves a million individuals each year (I am referring to trafficking of human beings), with women and children in situations of greater risk. They come from developing countries.

In Thailand alone, it is calculated that there are between 150 and 200 thousand women of the street, of whom 35 thousand are less than 18 years of age.

In Italy, there are an estimated 40 thousand women of the street, of whom 4 thousand are minors, and a great proportion are extra-Europeans.

After our meeting, I think we will have more accurate figures, to have a more definite basis for our pastoral commitment. 

3. What does the Church say concerning the liberation of the women of the street?

A. First of all, the Church works through its various expressions. This is shown by the presence in the Congress of many persons who are already active in the field of the liberation of the women of the street. Concretely this is how the Gospel of hope is announced, also for those who are slaves of the street.

With this witness as starting point, then comes also the word of the Church, that proclaims the dignity of the woman, denounces the situations of slavery, does “advocacy” in favor of those who are victims of violence of trafficking and of the smuggling of human beings.

Human rights are at stake, so profoundly linked to the cause of the Gospel, which is that of human beings, considered integrally. 

4. How will it be possible to change this reality of exploitation and slavery?

A. I will recall – in my first talk at the Congress – the words of John Paul II, repeated by Benedict XVI: “Do not be afraid!” We should not be afraid to face the tragedy of our times, however serious they may be, and we have to “overcome evil with good”. Our Congress is an occasion to think together, at the level of the Universal Church, also of this tragedy of our world today, of this new slavery. The experiences that will be shared will also help us formulate some common pastoral orientations, that can be translated into an apostolate of welcome, with programs related to its various characteristics: human, family, social, economic, ecclesial. Maybe our Congress will be a drop of sweet water in the immense salty sea of human suffering, but if it were not there – according to the vision of Mother Theresa of Calcutta – something in there would be lacking.