English cardinal says people rely on modern slavery for cheap goods

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An English cardinal said people have become unwittingly reliant on modern slavery for cheap goods and illicit pleasures.

Warning of a return to slave-driven economies, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said slavery was again becoming “one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, is pictured in a Feb. 24, 2014, photo. Speaking at the metropolitan cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb. 8, the cardinal said people have become unwittingly reliant on modern slavery for cheap goods and illicit pleasures. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

He said that although it was an evil comparable in enormity to child abuse, ordinary people often failed to realize how they were sometimes “part of the chain of supply and demand” that has led to an estimated 40 million people — a third of whom are believed to be children — trapped in slavery around the world.

“Their fate is not distant from us,” the cardinal said in a Feb. 8 homily at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires on the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of the victims of human trafficking.

“We have to recognize how we, too, are part of the dynamics of life which lead to their captivity,” said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“In one way or another, we are part of the chain of supply and demand that results in their enslavement,” he continued.

“We want cheaper goods, illegal or immoral pleasure, cheap services for our bodies or for our cars,” he said. “We are part of the demand met by modern-day slaves, part of the processes by which this slavery is one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world.”

The cardinal visited Argentina as president of the Santa Marta Group, a global alliance of Catholic bishops, senior law enforcement figures, religious communities and nongovernmental organizations working in partnership to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. He was a member of a U.K. delegation attending a Feb. 8-11 regional conference of the Santa Marta Group.

Cardinal Nichols said in his homily that human trafficking was both “a disgrace to our humanity” and that “the voice of its victims, just like the victims of childhood abuse, is the voice of Jesus crying out to us.”

“We have to learn, again and again, how to truly listen to that cry, how to let it enter our hearts,” he said, adding that such a task was “not easy, because we are constantly protecting ourselves with excuses and competing demands.”

But he reminded the congregation that every victim of human trafficking was effectively a prisoner who has been stripped of autonomy and treated with cruelty by “those who think they own them.”

The conference was hosted by the Argentine bishops’ conference in conjunction with the Latin American bishops’ council and was attended by representatives of the Argentine federal police.