By Rosemary Lewallen
Bridge of Light: Human Trafficking to Human Triumph Ministry hosted Catholic Relief Services’ “Turn on the Light” Solidarity Walk for Victims of Human Trafficking on February 8th at 7:00 p.m. at St. Irenaeus Catholic Church. February 8th was both the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking as well as the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking victims. St. Josephine was kidnapped, physically abused and sold into slavery at age seven, causing her much suffering, but was later baptized, developed a strong faith and became a nun. She died in 1992 and was beatified in 2000.
The evening was both spiritual and practical in nature. First, Fr. Binh Nguyen, St. Irenaeus’ Parish Administrator, welcomed about 60 people with poignant meditational and informational session in the church. After a Gospel reading, Deacon Bruce Sago said that the Los Angeles/Orange County area is a hotbed of human trafficking. Runaway teens are prime victims, as well as kids released from the Foster program. Girls as young as eleven are basically sold as sex slaves. The average age of kids trafficked is twelve. Human trafficking can take the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Victims live in fear. Approximately 55% of exploited workers are men and about 98% of sexually exploited victims are women. After the session in church, everyone walked in a candle-lit procession to three prayer stations where Fr. Frederick Atentar led us in prayer and personal stories of victims were read by parishioners, including Janet Bica, Chair of the Bridge of Light: Human Trafficking to Human Triumph Ministry. The procession ended at the Parish Hall where more information was given about this horrendous crime and how to combat it through contacting our legislators, buying “Fair Trade” products and reporting suspected cases.
This solidarity walk was meant to shine a light on the human toll of human trafficking. The goal was that through education and prayer, we can then take action to fight human trafficking. Attending this event were Stacy Berry, the Mayor of Cypress, Cypress Councilman, Paulo Morales, and Senator Ling Ling Chang. The City of Cypress issued a City Proclamation that January 2019 was “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month.” Senator Chang spoke to us about a Bill that she sponsored that reinstated $10 million in funding to help human trafficking victims, offering them legal services and assisting in finding them internships. Senator Chang also initiated a Bill to form a Human Trafficking Task Force (SB-35) to get data on the scope and demographics of this crime to help identify and combat it. The last part of the evening invited everyone to send letters to Congressmen that were partially prepared and ready to mail, asking them to author or sponsor legislation that will fight sex trafficking and other modern forms of slavery. The letters specifically asked legislators to support SB-35, as well as AB 1913 and AB 900, which would compensate victims for income lost when forced to work without pay.
if you have any questions, contact Monica Kovach, Health Ministry Facilitator at 310-490-6113.