Denouncing modern slavery as a "scourge," Pope Francis on New Year's Day called for concrete action and the "globalization of fraternity" to combat slavery and human trafficking.

"Whenever sin corrupts the human heart and distances us from our Creator and our neighbors, the latter are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects," Pope Francis said in his Jan. 1 message for the 48th World Day of Peace.

He appealed to "all men and women of good will" and to "the highest levels of civil institutions" who witness "the scourge of contemporary slavery." He urged them "not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity."

In a November report, the organization Walk Free said that 35.8 million people suffer in slavery, defined as the systematic deprivation of a person's liberty, and abuse of their body for personal or commercial exploitation.

Modern slavery includes forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking in persons, organ trafficking, sexual exploitation for money, and forced marriage.

Pope Francis said that while slavery has been "formally abolished," millions of people are "deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery."

"I pray especially that, on the basis of our common calling to cooperate with God and all people of good will for the advancement of harmony and peace in the world, we may resist the temptation to act in a manner unworthy of our humanity," he said.

Pope Francis lamented the forced prostitution of both sexes as well as forced marriage practices.

He also noted the plight of laborers in domestic or agricultural work, in manufacturing and mining in countries whose laws do not comply with international standards or lack protection for workers' rights. The Pope spoke of the poor living conditions of many migrants, who face hunger, robbery, the deprivation of their freedom, and physical and sexual abuse.

He blamed slavery on poverty, underdevelopment and "exclusion," which work in combination with a lack of education access or a lack of unemployment. He also denounced "corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain," taking aim at intermediaries who are complicit in trafficking and slavery.

The Pope called on countries to prevent slavery and trafficking, to protect victims, and to prosecute perpetrators. Businesses must ensure "dignified working conditions and adequate salaries" for employees, and must be vigilant that their suppliers do not rely on subjugation or human trafficking.
Those who purchase goods also have a social responsibility to be aware of products or services that depend on these injustices.

Pope Francis stressed the need to be "freely converted to Christ," noting the universality of the first Christian community.

"Differing origins and social status did not diminish anyone's dignity or exclude anyone from belonging to the People of God. The Christian community is thus a place of communion lived in the love shared among brothers and sisters," he explained.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is "capable of redeeming human relationships, including those between slaves and masters, by shedding light on what both have in common: adoptive sonship and the bond of brotherhood in Christ," the pontiff said.

He cited Jesus' words in the Gospel of John: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."

Pope Francis praised the "enormous and often silent efforts" to support victims of slavery and trafficking, especially the efforts of women's religious congregations who provide psychological and educational rehabilitation for victims and work to reintegrate them into their home society.

"These institutes work in very difficult situations, dominated at times by violence, as they work to break the invisible chains binding victims to traffickers and exploiters," he said.

The Pope cited the example of St. Josephine Bakhita, a nineteenth-century Sudanese woman who was kidnapped into slavery and endured brutal masters beginning at the age of nine years old.

"Subsequently – as a result of painful experiences – she became a 'free daughter of God' thanks to her faith, lived in religious consecration and in service to others, especially the most lowly and helpless.

"This saint, who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, is even today an exemplary witness of hope for the many victims of slavery; she can support the efforts of all those committed to fighting against this 'open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ'."