Australia's bishops and religious have joined the global call of Pope Francis to mark Feb. 8, the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, as the world day of prayer, reflection, and action against human trafficking.

St. Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and later became a Canossian nun and was the first person from Sudan to be canonized, by St. John Paul II in 2000.

"The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans resolute support Pope Francis in declaring Feb. 8, Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, as World Day of prayer, reflection and action against human trafficking," the groups said in a Jan. 23 statement.

The Australian bishops explained in their statement that the Vatican Secretary of State invited each national bishops conference to join the observance on Feb. 8 and to contribute to the "sensitising of public opinion to this tragic phenomenon, which represents one of the saddest wounds of our time."

According to Bishop Eugene Hurley of Darwin, "It is imperative that we begin a journey of personal change when we mark 8 February."

"Human trafficking exists in Australia and on this planet because we allow it to exist," Bishop Hurley further emphasized. "Let us together commit to eradicate this affront to our humanity."

Sr Anne Tormey, RSM, president of ACRATH said, "Following the call from Pope Francis and leaders of the Anglican, Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, 'to eradicate the terrible scourge of modern slavery in all its forms,' today we join this global initiative."

"The life of St Josephine Bakhita reminds us of the assault to the dignity, and of the suffering endured by every trafficked person."

The Australian Bishops and ACRATH also acknowledged Pope Francis' World Day of Peace message "No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters," given Jan. 1.

In his message Pope Francis solicited all the faithful "to practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement." He further proposed a self introspection saying, "Let us ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged when, in our daily lives, we meet or deal with persons who could be victims of human trafficking, or when we are tempted to select items, which may well have been produced by exploiting others."

The Australian bishops explained that despite many efforts to end human trafficking internationally, "an estimated 27 million women, men and children today are deprived of their freedom and forced to suffer in conditions of exploitation and slavery."

"There is now a compelling need to put an end to trafficking in human beings."

Responding to Pope Francis' call to observe Feb. 8 the bishops urged the faithful "to think of persons trafficked into prostitution, as well as women forced into marriage, without any right to give or withhold their consent." They added that "we remember also people trafficked into Australia to work in the agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors."

The bishops further enumerated, "And we remember people whose labour is exploited to produce cheap goods for Australians. We remember young boys in West Africa who are trafficked into the cocoa production for Australian chocolate."

"We remember refugees in Thailand who are trafficked onto fishing vessels to produce cheap fish for Australians to eat. We remember the women in Bangladesh whose exploited labour and unsafe working conditions result in cheap clothing for Australians to wear."

"We also remember the 200 female students kidnapped in Nigeria in April 2014 by Boko Haram; reports suggest that many of these girls have been sold or forced into marriages."

Emphasizing the gravity of concern, the ACBC and ACRATH stressed urged "a fourfold commitment to prevention, victim protection, the legal prosecution of perpetrators, and partnerships for change; these require a global effort on the part of all sectors of society."

The bishops assertively concluded that ACBC and ACRATH support the statement published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences in November 2013, declaring that "it is our moral imperative to make ours the last generation that has to fight the trade in human lives."