Margaret Anna on Trafficking

In my ministry role today at the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center, I have been invited to make a presentation to our Associates & Sisters at a community education day on human trafficking.  Since I feel like I've presented plenty to our community lately, I've invited one of my anti-trafficking colleagues from the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network to give the nitty gritty, "What does trafficking look like" presentation.

This freed me up to look into what our founder, Margaret Anna Cusack, might have to say to us about human trafficking.  This, my friends, was a very fun and enlightening experience.  You see, she was very attuned to the social realities and situation of oppressed people in her day.  In reflecting, I realized that she had a very keen eye and must have used an action/reflection process similar to what we today call the "Pastoral Circle"--experience, social analysis, reflection and action.

Her contemporary experience was the Irish famine.  The common folks were starving, and the young and able bodied (men and women) were being forced to emigrate to make money to keep their family alive back home.  Margaret Anna, then Sister Francis Clare Cusack of the Poor Clare Convent in Kenmare, County Kerry, experienced this first hand.  Her Sisters fed the poor in the area district, and she funded a famine relief fund for the people of Ireland through the sale of her books.  As an example of her impact, here's a tidbit from a letter to the editor of the Dublin Free Press by a Mr. J. Sullivan:

The poor, starving people have to depend almost entirely on the funds obtained by that lady for relief. She has disbursed within a very short period, very little short of $10,000, to the poor of that district ...

Serving the poor in need was not enough for her.  She asked questions as to why they were poor, and looked at the social structures that perpetuated (and created) the problem.  In terms of trafficking, she also looked at the situation where young women especially were made vulnerable to victimization.  She saw that they were being forced to emigrate to seek work, in factories or most often as domestic servants, and she was worried for their safety--spiritually as well as physically.

“How many girls are driven to a life which they abhor simply to get bread, the bread which is denied to them by those who squander on folly what is due to justice!”
“I knew that the only way out of their victimization was to help them become economically and intellectually independent.”

She reflected on what her faith taught her, and was motivated to do as much as she could for those who Jesus had loved so well ... poor and starving people.

And she acted.

I wish with all my heart that our girls were not obliged to leave their own country; but since they will do so, it is a most urgent duty of charity, and it would undoubtedly be a public benefit both to America and Ireland, to help them prepare for their future lives.

She founded St Joseph's Sisters of Peace in 1884.  She hoped to prepare young Irish women before they emigrated, giving them skills that would help them both to survive and support their families.  She also opened homes for "working girls"--in her day meaning simple girls that worked, as supposed to our current meeting.  These homes were places of safety, rest, and renewal.  Really, if you look at it through the lens of what we know about human trafficking, she was seeking to support vulnerable women and prevent them from being trafficked.

So, what does she have to say to us today about human trafficking?  Based on her own response in her day, I think she would encourage us today :

  • Meet the needs of vulnerable people (Charity)
  • Examine Root Causes (Social Analysis)
  • Make connections (Theological Reflection)
  • Act to change the systems where injustice
  • thrives (Systemic Justice)

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