Weekend for Trafficking Victims

The last weekend in September — this year Sept. 26-27 — is International Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for Victims of Human Trafficking, be it trafficking for sex, labor (agriculture, textile, domestic, etc.), organs, or child soldiers. 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of this weekend initiated by the Salvation Army and the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking (IAST). Anyone who believes that all life, all creation, is sacred will want to participate in this global effort of prayer and fasting to relieve this suffering endured by so many.

Although even the concept of human persons being treated as slaves — and worse — is repulsive, it occurs all over the globe, very probably in your area. Children, both boys and girls, are exploited.


2010_0825_child_trafficking_mNumbers of trafficked persons are deceptive for two reasons. For one, accurate numbers are impossible to get — traffickers are not eager to share them and police cannot find them. The other is that numbers tend to be numbing. Learning that the International Labor Organization estimates that almost 21 million people are trafficked each year, or that 4.5 million of those exploited by individuals or enterprises are victims of forced sexual exploitation can be too big to comprehend by mind or heart. (–en/index.htm)

Something tangible happens when we read that “two brothers, aged 7 and 10, died in April 2015 in a fire in one of the numerous clandestine garment workshops in Flores, a Buenos Aires neighborhood, where their parents, immigrants from Bolivia, were living and working.” ( One might not WANT to picture the sweat shops, the fire, and the protection given to exploiters by police in return for bribes, but it is POSSIBLE to do so. Both mind and heart can grasp the death of two innocents, the pain of their parents, and the injustice aggravated by police corruption.

Or that Pariyar, a poor uneducated laborer in Nepal, was tricked into selling his kidney. He needed money, was lied to about what would be removed, was offered large sums (which never came), and so he agreed. He now has a urinary problem, no way to track down the sellers, cannot afford a trip to a doctor, and worries what will happen to his two children if he dies. (

One Major Cause                                                                                                    Pope Francis leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (Oct. 23, 2013) See POPE-AUDIENCE Oct. 23, 2013.

In July, Pope Francis told a meeting of the world’s Mayors that the  state of the environment is directly and intimately linked to the life and wellbeing of humankind. He said huge migratory waves of peoples across the globe are triggered by environmental issues such as

• desertification,
• deforestation,
• drought, and
• floods, which leave people and entire communities without the possibility of seeking a livelihood. Thus – he said – the exodus that takes them into urban centers gives life to human trafficking which brings with it diverse forms of exploitation of women, children and vulnerable people.  

Pope Francis mentions human trafficking three times in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, always linking this issue with climate change and other results of the  destruction of our common home.

Prayer and Fasting Weekend

The focus on September 26-27, 2015, is on prayer and fasting, two simple actions that any reader of this blog can take to improve this blight on humankind. Uniting globally on the last weekend of September, our intentional and loving prayer and fasting “can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20) But do imagine one of the many victims, and pray/fast/picture his or her release — especially if environmental destruction contributed to his or her plight. Pray and fast that this cause may be mitigated by response to Laudato Si’.

Solutions to human trafficking are many. For actions to reduce trafficking (that include prayer and a prayer service), go to

.    .    .    .    .

I add very sincere thanks to Jean Schafer, sds, editor of Stop Trafficking! ( who generously and graciously assisted with this blog and whose monthly newsletter is always a source of valuable information.

A Pilgrimage to the Tar Sands

Guest blog by Mary Pendergast, RSM

“The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal.  The imposition of a dominant life-style linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as altering ecosystems.”
#145  Laudato Si’

In July, I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage, a meaningful journey to a sacred place, in order to deepen my life’s purpose: to do the Great Work of our times. (Thomas Berry urged all of us over 30 years ago to engage in the Great Work of bringing forth a mutually enhancing Earth/human relationship.) Athabasca falls 1Sister Maureen Wild, SC, and I followed Athabasca River (in western Canada) from its source in the Columbian ice fields. We saw her acquire strength and power and tumble into the Athabasca Falls in Jasper  National Park. We observed some of the places where she had carved rock with torrents and rivulets a long time and where she flowed lazily through quiet towns sculpting a path north.  The Athabasca has one mission, to bless all life in its path with pure glacial water; but to do it she has to pass through hell.  She does not come out unscathed.

Maureen and I tailed the river to Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada where she is used by the tar sands industry for its mining operation in the world’s last remaining “oil” field.  Second only to Saudi Arabia, the region is said to contain up to 2.5 trillion barrels of “oil,” but to get at it entails destroying an ecosystem and an indigenous way of life. The number one market for bitumen is the United States. 

To extract a barrel of bitumen requires the excavation of two tons of Earth and sand and three barrels of fresh water from the Athabasca.  That water use is equivalent to the water use of a city of two million people for a year!  Much of the water gets “recycled” in tailings ponds, used to settle out solids in the oil, water, chemical mix. The ponds are covered with the sheen of oil, so small cannons boom to keep birds from landing, 24 hours a day.  

If the “oil” is too deep to mine, the industry also uses another method of extraction called in situ.  It is a method that steams out the bitumen, but it burns natural gas to boil the water into steam.  Estimated use of natural gas in boiling water — enough to heat six million North American homes every day!   

Tar Sands mineIf this is beginning to sound like an energy intensive, unsustainable method to obtain bitumen which requires even more diluting and refining to become something that will actually flow through a pipeline, I think you are on to something!  Worst of all, each barrel of bitumen produces three times the greenhouse gas as conventional oil, putting us in the ever deepening hole of global emissions fueling climate change.

Maureen has First Nation elder friends in Fort McKay, Celia and Ed Harpe, who live just down river from the industry. They invited us to a dinner of moose meat and new potatoes.  They shared stories of their traditional way of life.  They no longer drink the water from the Athabasca, nor do they eat her fish which have been documented to have tumors, cancers and lesions, nor do they swim in the river or pick the berries and herbs growing wild.  They say that the wildlife has disappeared along with the forest and I wonder what the moose and the beaver are drinking wherever they are?  

Celia  is an outspoken critic of the Tar Sands industry. She says there have been no frogs on the river for 40 years. Canaries in the proverbial coal mine, they cannot survive in a toxic environment.  Tar Sands getty images 2The people, too, have come down with asthma and lupus and cancers I couldn’t even pronounce.  Celia said every family had someone who was sick, or already dead including her own. Her husband Ed has lung cancer. Her sister Dorothy died of lupus. Celia’s grandson, 32, was recently killed in an industry accident. We happened to be there for his memorial service.

 A way of life has been supplanted by an industry.  A people’s culture and health have been compromised. The people, caribou, bear, moose, fish and owl have to deal with a brew of heavy metals including arsenic, thallium and mercury in the Athabasca, while she continues her journey to the Arctic Ocean forever changed. 

The words of Thomas Berry ring as true as ever:

We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement: that in the 20th century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human.

Mary at Climate MarchMary Pendergast, RSM has been Director of Ecology for the Sisters of Mercy Northeast since 2009. She is also involved with Mercy Ecology, Inc. A Montessori teacher for many years and singer with Carolyn McDade, she studied the New Story with Miriam MacGillis, OP at Genesis Farm. For more information and photos of Mary and her pilgrimage: Contact:


May 15, Saint Isadore, Patron of Farmers 

glass-of-milk-000005523842large-21When I was very young, I lived several weeks each summer with a farm family. Although all “plumbing” was outdoors and we had to pump water, with the exception of watching a chicken be killed I have only the happiest memories of these visits. On my return to the city the first summer, I asked my parents if we could start using cow milk instead of store milk. Duh!

While that ignorance seems impossible, I suspect the underlying disconnect is not uncommon for many whose food comes primarily from packages and fast food stores. And, what a loss! We miss the marvel, the awe, that Mary Oliver expresses in her poem “Beans Green and Yellow”:

In fall
it is mushrooms
gathered from dampness              images-1
under the pines;
in spring
I have known
the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden —
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

The Blessed Earth

Earth, soil, dirt, as St. Francis reminded us, “feeds us and rules us and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” The SHCJ mission statement calls us to help others believe that “God lives and acts in us and in our world” — soil included! Francis couldn’t have known that “Sister Earth, our Mother” can take between 500 to thousands of years for rock to become this precious membrane of life on our planet. Fortunately, Earth has had time for this.

A handful of healthy forest soil is home to interconnected life communities of up to 10 billion bacteria, about a million plump yeasts and fungi, and tens of thousands of other creatures!

For centuries farmers protected their soil by rotation, compost, etc. Now, however, loss of topsoil from various reasons threatens farmers (and thus eaters!) globally.

imagesSoil was present when prehistoric animals roamed the Earth. Humans began to farm about 12,000 years ago. Farmers in what is now Mexico began breeding varieties of corn about 7,000 years ago. Worldwide, crops like potatoes, apples and rice each developed thousands of varieties depending on soil, light, and general growing conditions (think varieties of wine). This diversity protected the interests of farmers, soil, water, and climate — and all life that depended upon this nourishment. Until the advent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents, all food was grown organically.

Farming’s Future

In an April 18, 2015, posting, The Ecologist ( stated that a profit-driven model of agriculture enriches corporations while impoverishing farmers by taking their land and water, depleting resources, and undermining sustainable livelihoods — not to mention adding to climate change. (Agribusiness is the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gases.)

“The real problem isn’t that we are, or will be, short of food in any aggregate sense, but that it is poorly distributed because of deep imbalances of power. Throwing vast amounts of money at large corporate models, and telling governments to put in place rules that focus solely on bolstering the ability of large institutions to grab huge tracts of land for industrial, often mono-culture farms, only deepens those power imbalances . . . . 

Family farmers already produce 70% of the world’s food. Their   latino-a-farms   sustainable methods increase crop yields over time, maintain the  health of the soil, and sequester large amounts of carbon. Synthetic methods, on the other hand, plateau and then decrease yield, actively degrade soil and produce greenhouse gasses in enormous quantities.”

Agribusiness, GMOs, and mono-cropping are not the answer! Among other problems, the industrial model of farming forces farmers to be beholden to lenders for seeds, which has caused 300,000 suicides in India alone. To reverse the negative trends, the United Nations has designated 2015 the “Year of the Soil.”

Fortunately, community gardens, roof gardens, farmers’ markets, and coops are increasingly helping children and adults realize their connection with “the blessed [E]arth.” More and more shoppers are
images-2buying organic and local produce. More and more are aware of the importance of caring not just for farmers and their farms, but for everything needed to sustain healthful crops for the present and the future. Some people are making compost from food scraps, vegetation, and newspaper. Some practice vermiculture (worm farming) to decompose waste and turn it into a rich soil.


Friday, May 15th, is the remembrance day for St. Isadore, patron of farmers. I suggest we not only remember farmers, but also re-member them! We food consumers can more consciously re-connect and honor the interconnections between and among those who labor in the fields, the soil, the water, and the climate that are so essentially interconnected, and the food we too-often buy packaged and sanitized, stripped of its origins. Let’s also connect with future generations of all life — human and all our biotic relations — who will be affected by our decisions about how farming is done.

Let’s celebrate on May 15th by gratefully eating meals of local and organic food — but let’s also use our political power to ask legislators to  protect our family farms and warn us when food is genetically modified.

It is definitely not “an ordinary thing” to eat the blessed Earth! How might you participate in remembering?