By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
An ecumenical effort in the Davenport area to raise awareness of human trafficking and to assist its victims has captured the attention of the Vatican. The Rev. Brian McVey, an Episcopal priest who has doggedly pursued this issue with help from the Diocese of Davenport, was invited to attend a Vatican conference on human trafficking last month.
The conference preceded the signing of an interfaith agreement Dec. 2 by Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, and other global religious leaders calling for eradication of modern slavery by the year 2020. The agreement is the result of an initiative of the Global Freedom Network, launched in March after a joint agreement by the Vatican, Al-Azhar University and the Anglican Community.
Rev. McVey said the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church (of which the Episcopal Church is a member) were seeking opportunities to foster their relationship and human trafficking was among several issues they agreed to work on.
“I was one of 20 people invited by Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin to begin to help craft the Church’s response to the issue of human trafficking. They have invited all faith groups to participate,” said Rev. McVey, rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davenport. He said he was “floored” to get the invitation to participate in the Vatican conference held Nov. 3-8 and titled: “The Consultation on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.”
Church leaders apparently became aware of the work Rev. McVey was doing in Davenport with lay people of various faiths, religious Sisters and clergy. These individuals formed the “Attacking Trafficking” group which has organized conferences to raise awareness of human trafficking and whose members speak to churches and other organizations. The group’s members also worked with Iowa legislators on a law that ensures child trafficking victims will not be charged with prostitution.
Rev. McVey, collaborating with the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Office and Catholic Charities in Milwaukee, helped facilitate direct service for a human trafficking victim, said Kent Ferris, the Social Action Office’s director. He praised Rev. McVey’s leadership, which has inspired individual parishioners, laity and religious Sisters to bring their areas of expertise to the fight against human trafficking.
For a while, Rev. McVey conducted a ministry of presence at a location where he discovered human trafficking, in the form of prostitution, but he’s since been banned from that location. He’d also sought spiritual support from Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese to deal with the frustration building up over the suffering of human trafficking victims.
Bishop Amos was a willing listener and referred him to a priest of the diocese as a possible spiritual director. “I tried to find someone I thought would be compassionate, would be a good listener, and has good common sense,” the bishop said.
“We all need to drink from the well that gives eternal life,” Rev. McVey added.
He didn’t realize the reach of his ecumenical group’s work until seeing the message about the Vatican conference on his cell phone.
“It was an amazing thing to have Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis know the people I was working with and … to have (the two faith leaders) praying for them intentionally. And then to learn that what we are doing is important to them in their vision of the Church.”
At the conference, participants wanted to know about the ecumenical efforts that have been undertaken in the Daven-port area on behalf of victims of human trafficking.
“Our theological reflection was ‘Why is it working in the Quad Cities, where Anglicans and Catholics are working together and you’re taking in Methodists and even an atheist and keeping focus on the ministry and not the wider things that divide us?’” Rev. McVey said.
The participants were saying, “You guys are living the vision we have for the Church.”
The priest observed: “We don’t get bogged down in the things that the upper echelon (of the Church) gets bogged down in.”
During the Vatican conference the participants addressed six issues – dubbed the “six p’s” of human trafficking: prevention, prosecution, participation, policy, partnership and protection, Rev. McVey said. The U.S. conferees evaluated statistics pertaining to successful prosecution of human trafficking cases. The track record hasn’t been good, he said, because many victims are reluctant to pursue prosecution and don’t trust the legal system.
Although Rev. McVey, a husband and father of seven is leaving Davenport to minister in a parish in Tennessee, he’ll continue his work on human trafficking. The Vatican conference participants have been tasked with presenting a plan tailored to fighting human trafficking at the provincial or country level, the diocesan level and the parish level.
Rev. McVey said the conference was amazing for him spiritually. He noted that during a break he got to visit the house where Paul spent the last two years of his life imprisoned, knowing that he would die. “That’s probably when he wrote the Letter to Timothy. He was imprisoned by Jewish and Roman authorities who were trying to stop the spread of the Gospel. And within two centuries the empire had fallen to the Gospel. When you’re dealing with victims of trafficking there’s a lot of darkness and failure. To be reminded here that Paul was in this small house and within 200 years Constantinople converted … God won big time. That was helpful for me personally.”
Ending modern slavery
Catholic News Service
As Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and religions signed a declaration Dec. 2 pledging to work together to help end modern slavery in the world by 2020, he urged governments, businesses and all people of good will to join forces against this “crime against humanity.”
Inspired by their religious beliefs and a desire “to take practical action,” the pope and 11 leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist and Hindu faiths made a united commitment to help eradicate slavery worldwide.
The leaders signed the joint declaration at the headquarters of Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican Gardens.
“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored,” the declaration said.
According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, almost 36 million people are currently caught in some form of modern slavery; the International Labor Organization estimates that organized crime networks reap about $150 billion a year from trafficking in persons, about 80 percent of that from prostitution.