8 February: Reactionary Pope Condemns Slavery!

Slaves are evident in this triumphal procession from a Methodist children’s book contemporary with Gregory XVI. The grooms leading the horses, but also the crowd of captives following the chariot, are all slaves, or about to become slaves.

Each year about the feast of Saint Bakhita, we turn our thoughts to those caught up in slave trade, which we know all too well has not gone away.

Gregory XVI was not the most liberal of Popes. He condemned railways as ‘chemins d’enfer’, roads to hell, because they encouraged the rise of the culture of trade and increased the power and influence of the middle classes, upsetting the social order. For all that he followed a number of rprevious popes in recognising that the slave trade was indefensible. His 1839 encyclical ‘In Supremo Apostolatus’ cited Saint Paul to the Ephesians (6:5ff) and Colossians (3:22ff, 4:1) as signs of the early Church demonstrating a new attitude to slavery. Slave and Master were both human, both answerable to one Lord, both to be treated with respect. Gregory’s language is not that of Pope Francis, but sadly, Francis and today’s Church must still address the issues of modern slavery. First Pope Gregory, followed by Sisters in Zambia today, who are working to address these issues.

We have judged that it belonged to Our pastoral solicitude to exert Ourselves to turn away the Faithful from the inhuman slave trade in Negroes and all other men. … Desiring to remove such a shame from all the Christian nations, having fully reflected over the whole question and having taken the advice of many of Our Venerable Brothers the Cardinals, and walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, We warn and adjure earnestly in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to use violence against anyone, despoil him of his possessions, reduce to servitude, or lend aid and favour to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not men but rather animals, having been brought into servitude, in no matter what way, are, without any distinction, in contempt of the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and devoted sometimes to the hardest labour.

We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices mentioned above as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.

The following photograph is from Global Sisters Report, it introduces an article by Sister Eucharia Madueke about how Sisters in Zambia are organising to combat human trafficking. ‘Open your eyes’ is a call to us as well. Read the full article here.

Sisters from across Zambia attended a workshop in November 2021 in Makeni, Lusaka, on advocacy against human trafficking. The sisters stand with the signs they made as part of their awareness-raising efforts. (Sr. Eucharia Madueke)

Sisters from across Zambia attended a workshop in November 2021 in Makeni, Lusaka, on advocacy against human trafficking. The sisters stand with the signs they made as part of their awareness-raising efforts. (Sr. Eucharia Madueke)

Note froom the Editor of Global Sisters Report: In observance of the Feb. 8 feast day of Sr. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking survivors, which is also the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, Global Sisters Report is publishing two special columns about a workshop held in Zambia by the Africa Faith and Justice Network to raise awareness among sisters about modern-day slavery and train them as advocates against it. (Read the other column here.) This is an example of efforts across the globe that sisters are undertaking to help stop human trafficking. Learn more at Talitha Kum; the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, and through Global Sisters Report’s extensive coverage.

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Mission, PLaces

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