Your faith tradition may be something you keep private, or may be something you need to share with all you encounter. But sometimes, even for people who have dedicated their lives to a religious order, there can be this delicate balance of following your beliefs…but not alienating others who need emergency help. In this episode, a conversation with a nun battling human trafficking.
In this episode:
Sisters Against Slavery
“How many slaves work for you?”
It was the provocative, uncomfortable start to Sister Anne’s Victory’s TEDx talk a few years ago. If you were to judge her by her looks, you might think she was a grandmother or retiree. But Sister Anne is at the forefront of a major effort to shine light on the practice of human trafficking.
She’s a member of the Catholic Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and also the director education for the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, in Northeast Ohio. Sister Anne was a nurse by profession, spending 32 years in aspects of nursing, based near Cleveland.
“It was never on our radar, we had never even heard about it until late 2006, we hadn’t heard the term, so we didn’t know what it was, and became curious about what is that, and who’s doing what about it, and then just being energized I guess I would say, and eager to be doing something. Somebody should do something,” she says, with gentleness yet passion in her voice.
“It was really a group of members of seven different religious communities at the time, we decided we would meet until we figured it out, what we could do.”
The issue of human trafficking is immense. There’s a good chance you’ve heard something about it because of the work of people like Sister Anne. It may be hard to think that people are being bought, sold, and exploited, but they are, and the criminality is not isolated to any one region or city.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline has a list of the most calls it gets by city…you go down the list Houston with more than 3600, New York, LA…Columbus, Ohio is 8th on that list. If you go by per capita calls..Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and Cincinnati Ohio are in the top 20.
Victims and survivors of human trafficking, and abuse, are in need of so many different things, that Sister Anne and her colleagues really wanted to focus on one thing they could do well. And they thought awareness of the issue was the first step in fighting it. So they would begin building this coalition of organizations and experts who could provide the diverse help trafficking survivors need…and Sister Anne’s group would specialize in communicating.
On choosing to be a non-profit, and not a religious non-profit:
“We did talk about that, and at first it was pretty practical. You could only apply for funds from certain groups–if you were labeled as Catholic you were restricted from other funds. So we didn’t want to do that, because the issue’s too important. And it’s not a religious issue, it’s a human rights issue. So we wanted that to be out there, and we wanted the openness for others of any faith and no faith to be part of this effort. So it was conscious on our part to do that. And it’s really both/and: the faith community has to respond, and they do…”
On the church being seen as a refuge for human trafficking victims:
“It can be in certain parts of the country, I don’t know so much that it is here. And it really depends on the person who is suffering. They may be terribly mad at God–they don’t want anything to do with the Church, or any church, I understand that. And God understands it. Because of the trauma they’ve been through, we have to be very careful about how we help, and who helps, so that they’re treated with great dignity and respect, and honoring what they’ve been through. Because it’s been torture, and it’s a really long-term recovery process.”
On whether people reject help because they don’t want ‘religion’ involved:
“Well, we don’t push it as religion. That can be sometimes detrimental, so that’s not the push. We just like to help, and here are some places where you can get some very good, qualified help. So that part isn’t necessarily negating religion–it’s part of the fabric of who I am, so you get what you see.”
On how to process the details of trafficking, and how it informs her faith journey:
“It’s a huge piece, and the only way I do the work–the only way–is to stay very grounded in prayer. So the day begins with an hour, at least, spent in quiet prayer. And I also have colleagues with whom I pray on a regular basis. That’s the grounding for all I do, and I think it informs the work and how we do it. The Gospel is very alive–Jesus dealt with people who were tortured, and cast aside, and that’s where we belong. So it does at times take some courage, but it also has resulted in many blessings. People I never would’ve thought I’d interact with are colleagues, and I didn’t expect that. So finding such goodness in them, and such open-hearted, generous desire to serve the good of people, and that’s what this is about. Jesus didn’t reject people, or only go to the Jews, in fact he was challenged not to, to go farther.”
On a time that challenged her:
“Just this week we got a call, and we don’t always get the calls, but the woman had called us because she was referred by Catholic Charities of Kentucky–of Louisville I believe. She had called a friend there saying what was going on, she lives in the Cleveland area. She, her mother, and her siblings were being trafficked…and it was her mother’s boyfriend who was doing this, so she was really worried. And they had just left, they had left the situation, were terrified. Did not want to talk to law enforcement, did not know whom to call to get the help that they needed, and I was sitting there thinking,’oh, I need some inspiration about who could really help.'”
“Take a deep breath, and think that God will provide the answer here. And if it’s not the right referral, we have this whole cadre of people that we can work with now, which is a great gift. I think one of the things that we’ve learned as women religious is collaboration. We don’t do any of this alone, we never have, and so we’ve learned to do that, to focus on the mission, and not bring our own agenda to the table, but the agenda becomes the mission. This is what we’re about, and we don’t have to have it our way, but we have to respect, and honor, and bless the gifts of others that they bring to the table.”