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Opening Speech: Sr. Gabriella Bottani

Sr. Gabriella Bottani, International Coordinator of Talitha Kum, opens the General Assembly 



“Together against human trafficking. Weaving a web in Love.” 

The feeling is one of deep gratitude to God, whom I have felt present in these years of service to the UISG, in the coordination of Talitha Kum.

I have felt the presence of the divine in many moments: 
 in embracing those who have experienced the violence of trafficking and who now have joined paths of rehabilitation and social reintegration. It is a reality that I accompany from distance , to serve those engaged at the base. Data, albeit partial, collected by Talitha Kum in collaboration with the Gregorian University here in Rome, reveal that in 2018 our networks accompanied fifteen thousand five hundred persons who survived trafficking, offering various services. 
God was present in the teen-ager whom I met at the prayer vigil in preparation of the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against trafficking: She whispered to my ear: "thank you, I go home happy, now I know that someone cares about me!”  That whisper is addressed to all of us!

    I contemplated the presence of God in the welcoming smiles and in the words of encouragement that we offer to each other, among us, sisters and brothers, committed to the grassroot engagement against trafficking, even when we have different opinions and ways of acting. I realize that our network is much more than a space for coordination, we are a "group in which we support each other", we nurture hope. I would like to express my special thanks to the sisters of the International Coordination Committee, who in their respective regions have supported the commitments made together since 2016. Sr. Adel (Asia), Sr. Patricia (Africa), Sr. Imelda (Europe), Sr. Ann and Sr. Claudette (North America), Sr. Carmela (Latin America) and Sr. Colleen (Oceania), who is not with us today for health reasons. To you a special hug from all of us! 

This year the UISG executive will renew this committee.

    God calls us to collaborate, to weave together, through the requests and the support we receive from the UISG executive, first of all from Sr. Patricia Murray, IBVM, executive secretary. Then I wish to mention Sr. Carmen Sammut, MSOLA who is among us today, president until few months ago, and Sr. Jolanta Kafka, RMI who continues offering this service to the UISG, who has just addressed words that encourage us to renew our efforts. Thanks to the leaders of many congregations who have motivated and supported us, encouraging sisters to join the Talitha Kum network. The Church as well confirms our call through the magisterium of Pope Francis, and accompanies us thanks to the partnership with the Migrants and Refugees Section. 

 “Together against human trafficking. Weaving a web in Love.” 

The image chosen is that of a compass to orient ourselves in the dark and complex times in which we live.

Together: a word that includes, that sets in motion and invites us to rethink the boundaries, the walls and the seas that divide, to deconstruct concepts of division and death and to build spaces of encounter, welcome, and conversion. 
Together: like a movement that engages more people in more countries, to reach out to everybody who need to be embraced by Love. 

Together: different people who have experienced the trauma of trafficking, religious persons and committed laity of different charisms, who accept the challenge of collaborating. People from different cultures, countries, religious traditions, ideas, gifts, and worldviews. Together we learn freedom, respect and appreciation of diversity, protecting the inherent dignity of each person. 

Together against human trafficking: Together, with the aim of promoting paths and processes of liberation and dignity, against all forms of human and environmental exploitation. Because, as Pope Francis reminds us well in his encyclical Laudato Sii: “The human environment and the natural environment degrade together” (LS 48). Indeed, we observe this mutual degradation in different contexts: in the mines of the region of the great lakes in Congo, in the mangrove forests in Bangladesh, and, I would like to recall in particular, in the Amazon region, not only because it is particularly dear to me, but because human and environmental exploitation will be one of the themes addressed at the Synod that will open in few weeks. 

Weaving a web in Love: Talitha Kum networks weave activities of prevention, social rehabilitation and reintegration of all those ones suffered the violence of trafficking, individuals, families and communities. Human trafficking not only impacts on the trafficked person: it involves families, villages, countries. 

Weaving a web in love allows us to enter the shadowy drivers that foster the spreading of trafficking, the structural contributing factors. They are many, diverse, intertwined,  but I would like to highlight two, which I have identified in listening to the networks’ experiences:  

First: The power differential between men and women - in all sectors: economic, social, familial, cultural and religious. 
We know this, but we speak about it less and less. The main statistical sources confirm that the majority of trafficked persons, more than 70%, are women and girls. The forms of exploitation are different: forced marriages, domestic servitude, and begging, labor exploitation in agriculture, fishing, textiles, services and tourism. Women account for 90% of persons trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This is a cause of grave concern, a-shame! 

We women are a resource for humanity, we have equal dignity. We have to recognize it, empowering each other, in an inclusive way that involves everyone. We would like this commitment to be reflected within the Church. We would like the Church to offer greater and qualified spaces of participation for women, we would like the Church to involve us more in decision-making processes, especially on issues that are relevant for us, that concern us. 

Second: The dominant model of neo-Liberal development, often denounced by Pope Francis. This model already showed its limits. The maximization of profits at all costs has increased inequalities, while the dramatic drop in the provision of support services by States - social, health, education, work - exacerbates the situation of already fragile people and pushes at the margins more and more social groups. The progressive polarization of the political discourse on migration fosters divisions and discrimination. It opens opposition and hatred for those who are considered “different”.

As a result, the problems that we experience, in the daily organization of our service, especially assistance, are:  
- (first) The decrease in medium/long-term resources for health care, social services, and access to work supported by public authorities. Increasingly, the resources allocated by governments for programs of prevention, reception, and social/employment reintegration of trafficked persons are being reduced. In particular, those who need long paths of accompaniment, such as those with mental distress, are penalized. We see reception houses closed or destined to other services, due to lack of funds, or we no longer find shelters available to receive a survivor, because no funds are allocated for the reception of individuals in difficult situations.
- (second) the normalization of exploitation, people no longer dream about better opportunities, they know only exploitation, and consider themselves goods, objects … the justice systems make it increasingly difficult to achieve the  compensation of exploited people. They often are sent back home with a little amount of money given to an NGO for their care.
- (third) We also note with concern the increase in vulnerability to trafficking among migrants, especially among those who are denied any possibility of mobility with regular documents. We note an increase in the difficulty of accessing, and identifying, trafficked persons. 

We are committed to promoting individual and collective transformation processes. (Rom. 12,2) Transformation/conversion that involves above all ourselves, our mentality, lifestyles and choices, cultural models. It is impossible to approach the pain of trafficking in a hurry. This is only possible if we move at the rhythm of "Love", letting reality dwell in us and us in reality. If we do not, we risk being like the traffickers who use people for power, prestige, money, and so on... 
For us, Talitha Kum, opposing trafficking means to let God act in us and with us. There are simple gestures that allow beauty and freedom to shine in the darkness caused by dysfunctional relationships, of domination, of violence. 
Like Mary, we experience that God’s action scatters the proud and overthrows the powerful, confuses them, because it prefers those who are poor, excluded, marginalized, discarded, those who are considered having no value. (Lk. 2:51-52) God calls us to work together because he asks us to give the first step and heal our relationships wounded by competition, often imposed by cultural models of domination, which teach us to fight against each other. 

Trafficking in people is one of the symptoms of the crisis of our time. In this context we are called to REMAIN in God's LOVE (Jo. 15:9), and keep hope alive by weaving together a network in love. St. Josephine Bakhita, our sister, accompanies us and supports us, she who has personally known the trauma of slavery, shows us the way to remain with confidence in Love. 

May we, delegates to this Assembly, receive the grace to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)