17 March 2023, The Tablet

Irish bishops hail Patrick as a saint for modern times

by Phoebe Hobbs

“Patrick’s captivity transformed his whole life and his relationships with God and others,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Irish bishops hail Patrick as a saint for modern times

Archbishop Eamon Martin, left, with the newly-installed sculpture honouring St Josephine Bakhita in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh.
Irish Bishops' Conference

St Patrick has been celebrated as a patron for human trafficking victims and migrants in a statement by the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Eamon Martin.

Archbishop Martin marked St Patrick’s Day by reflecting on the saint’s experiences as a migrant and survivor of human trafficking.

St Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and trafficked into Ireland aged 16, before spending six years as a slave.

“Patrick’s captivity transformed his whole life and his relationships with God and others,” said Martin.

“In his slavery and isolation, he discovered through prayer a warm and personal friendship with God which he instinctively wanted to communicate to everyone he met.”

“In that sense St Patrick is truly a saint for modern times.”

Martin continued: “His experience raises awareness of the injustice of human trafficking which shockingly continues here in Ireland, north and south, in 2023.”

For every one victim of human trafficking detected in Ireland there are thought to be two more, according to research by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2016.

Of these, 55 per cent are trafficked for sexual exploitation, while 38 per cent are trafficked for their labour, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has reported. 

The vast majority are migrants, and 66 per cent are women.

Archbishop Martin also emphasised that St Patrick was a migrant who faced discrimination for not being born in Ireland.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, delivered a homily in which he emphasised the experience of St Patrick – and of Irish emigrants throughout history – as a stranger in a foreign land.

“The Christian community is called to encourage those better reflexes that reflect the Irish tradition of welcome to the stranger, just as the children of this land for generations hoped for a similar welcome in their day,” he said.

The bishops' statements follow the arrival of a replica of the sculpture “Let the Oppressed Go Free” at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh this week.

The six-foot bronze replica, by the Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz, shows the patron saint of human trafficking survivors, Josephine Bakhita, liberating almost a hundred people.

Another replica has been installed at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York this week.

Saint Josephine was enslaved in modern-day Sudan in 1877, when she was only seven or eight years old. She remained in bondage for 12 years before being freed and converting to Catholicism.

She was canonised in 2000.


If you’re concerned you may have seen signs of human trafficking in Ireland, you can contact The Blue Blindfold at 1800 666 111 or blueblindfold@garda.ie.

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