Consumer demand for cheap goods and illicit pleasure is part of the processes that make the "scourge" of modern slavery a profitable criminal activity, according to the Archbishop of Westminster.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, delivering a homily at the start of a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina on human trafficking, everyone is part of the dynamics that lead to this modern enslavement.
"Their fate is not distant from us. We have to recognise how we too are part of the dynamics of life which lead to their captivity. In one way or another we are parts of the chain of supply and demand that results in their enslavement. We want cheaper goods, illegal or immoral pleasure, cheap services for our bodies or for our cars.
"We are part of the demand met by modern day slaves, part of the processes by which this slavery is one of the most profitable criminal activities in the world."
He said it must not be forgotten that one third of the victims of human trafficking are children, many of whom are handed over by their families, "deceived by the evil of the traffickers and the false hopes they spin in the face of poverty and need".
He was speaking at Catedral Metropolitana as Catholics around the world celebrate the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. The event is the regional conference of the Santa Marta Group, of which the Cardinal is president. The group is a global alliance of bishops, senior law enforcement figures, religious communities and NGOs working in partnership to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking.
The conference, titled Latin American Meeting on New Slavery and Human Trafficking, "Together against Trafficking in Persons", is being promoted by the Santa Marta Group, along with the Episcopal Conference of Argentina Through the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the Episcopal Commission of Social Pastoral and the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Latin American Episcopal Council through its Department of Justice and Solidarity, Network Clamor and the International Forum of Catholic Action.
Cardinal Nichols said: "As we today confront the horror of slavery, St Josephine points us always to the person of Jesus. In Him we see the deeper reality of human trafficking. Pope Francis uses two phrases to describe it. He says: 'It is a wound in the flesh of humanity.' But then he adds, 'It is a great wound in the body of Christ.' In this way we too see human trafficking not only as a disgrace to our humanity but also as a disfiguring of Christ himself.
"The voice of its victims, just like the victims of childhood abuse, is the voice of Jesus crying out to us. We have to learn, again and again, how to truly listen to that cry, how to let it enter our hearts. That is not easy because we are constantly protecting ourselves with excuses and competing demands. But, again as Pope Francis has said, this tragedy will never be defeated until we have learned again how to weep."
Meanwhile, Bishop Patrick Lynch, an auxiliary in Southwark and the lead bishop on trafficking in England and Wales, has written a letter to all Catholic parishes with suggestions for celebrating the feast.
The Church said labour exploitation currently makes up the greatest percentage of modern slavery cases in the UK. Victims of forced labour are made to work long hours, often in tough conditions without the training and safety measures in place. The majority, if not all, of wages are taken by the traffickers. This often accompanied by threats and violence. Cases of labour exploitation have been widely reported in car washes and nail bars however victims have been found in the manufacturing, entertainment, hospitality, agriculture, and construction industries.
"The eradication of modern slavery and the pastoral care of victims is a priority for the Catholic Church. Pope Francis continually draws the attention of the Church and the wider world to the moral and human crisis evident in this widespread exploitation," the Church said in a statement.
The Santa Marta Group produced a booklet, poster and prayer card for dioceses, parishes, schools, small groups and individuals to use to mark this day, and a suggested Liturgy for schools to celebrate the feast.