Spirit of Saint Patrick International Young Writers Competition
Theme: Human Trafficking/ Faith in Challenging Times
The Saint Patrick Centre is launching an international writing competition to celebrate its 20th Anniversary, and is inviting young aspiring writers to write about human trafficking and slavery worldwide.
The International Spirit of Patrick Writing competition is open to young writers aged 16 to 20, as St Patrick himself was trafficked to Ireland, as a young person at this age, around 410AD.
Young writers are being invited to compose 2,000 words on the theme of Human trafficking and slavery in our world today and Faith in challenging times.
St Patrick is believed to have been trafficked at age 16 and held captive in Ireland for six years before he miraculously escaped, having found God in his isolation and suffering.
“We at the Centre believe the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery, which cause so much suffering and torment in the world today need to be stopped and this can only be done when future generations engage and become involved,” said Dr Tim Campbell, Director of Saint Patrick Centre.
“We also think that young people have a lot to say about faith at a time when our freedoms are curtailed by Covid.
“We invite young writers to write about these twin themes and we will publish the winners online.”
The Spirit of Patrick Writing Competition opens today as it is the 7th International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. According to the United Nations, human trafficking affects every country in the world.
The winning essay writer will receive a brand new apple i-pad and their work will be reproduced on our website and facebook and social media channels.
The competition closes on 12th March and the winner will be announced on St Patrick’s Day.
“Being a survivor of trafficking is like having a tattoo on the soul. No one can see it, but it is always there and remains forever.”
Poignant words. These are words of Marcela Loaiza, a victim of sexual exploitation. A young woman, like myself with hopes and dreams for our future. However, trickery and deception denied Marcela all rights inherent to her as a human being and reduced her to a mere piece of property. Marcela isn’t one of the few, her story isn’t unique, but rather she is one of 40.3 million victims of Modern Slavery and Human trafficking in our world today. Marcela’s story opened my eyes to an experience of evil that I didn’t think was possible for someone who shares my world today. We must educate to eradicate, so that Marcela’s story does not become Maeve’s.
According to Britannica, Slavery is the condition in which one human being is owned by another. A slave is considered by law as property and is deprived of most of the rights ordinarily held by free persons. Human trafficking is also called trafficking in persons and is often included when people describe Modern Slavery. It involves the illegal recruiting, transport, harbouring or receipt of individuals by force, fraud, coercion, or deception for the purpose of exploitation. In these definitions I can see that an abuse of power and exploitation are the shared characteristics of both conditions of slavery and human trafficking.
My mind turns again to Marcela’s experience, a young single mother with a sick child and no means to pay the hospital bills when a colleague, an angel, Marcela thought, offered to pay the hospital bills and was able to help her secure employment abroad. Marcela believed this individual offered her, a route out of this situation and the pathway to a better life for her and her daughter. The reality was an ‘angel’ preying on Marcela’s vulnerability. A vulnerability that comes from living a life on the margins, void of support and avenues of hope.
Hope and optimism seems to abound on the streets of Vietnam the world economic forum describes “the boundless energy everywhere”, it is in fact the top-performing Asian economy in 2020, quite a feat amid the Covid pandemic, but it is a fact that means little or nothing to the families of 39 people who lost their life in a refrigerated container that made its way to the UK. What made talented university graduates, skilled hairdressers and bricklayers chose the ‘CO 2’ route into the UK? It would seem the provinces in north-central Vietnam, which was home to many of the 39 people, the only industry that is thriving is the vast human trafficking networks that smuggle approximately 18,000 Vietnamese people to Europe every year. Traffickers are capitalising on the bleak outlook in rural communities, making a perilous journey look promising.
Those who do survive the journey to our shores can be found working in most sectors of employment. They can be working on farms, in food production, at car washes, in nail bars and domestic settings. Employment, an income, indeed, a pathway to new life in their new home beckon but sadly these people can be continually used by the network who brought them here.
They live here amongst us “Hidden in plain sight” perpetually enslaved. 1
1 Jacqui Durkin – Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland (2020)
Even though it is one of the fastest growing crime types in the UK, there are many in our society who are blissfully unaware of the extent, the nature and the impact of this crime. This is the reason why the Unions of Superiors and Superiors General of Religious Institutes established an international day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking. The aim for this day is to encourage Christians to host or attend prayer services and in doing so create greater awareness of modern-day slavery and trafficking. Awareness is key to tackling this crime, but this day serves to remind us about the power and the role of prayer in combating slavery and trafficking. How important it is to pray for God to work in the hearts and minds of people who are orchestrating these crimes. Prayer can also comfort, strengthen, and empower survivors as witnessed in the example of St Josephine Bakhita whom this day honours. She was a victim of human trafficking and slavery. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita, meaning “fortunate” however, her life in captivity could certainly not be described as such. She later recounted that her abduction was so singularly traumatic, she that she forgot her birth name. The maltreatment continued throughput her slavery and one description stands out for me; Josephine suffered the traditional Sudanese practice where a pattern was cut into her skin with a razor. When it was finished, 140 intricate patterns were carved into her skin almost like an exercise to brand and tattoo, this description took me back to the words of Marcela and emphasises the physical and psychological scarring of slavery. Thankfully Josephine finally found refuge, left by her owner in the custody of the Daughters of Charity in Venice in 1888, she experienced a call to follow Christ. Her faith helped to restore her from the hurt and trauma she experienced as a slave. When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed that she was thankful for her kidnappers. “If I were to meet the slave traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me,” she once said, “I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and religious today.” I can see and can draw comparisons with how St. Patrick perceived his slavery. In the Confessio he explicitly gives thanks “for the great grace which the lord generously gave me in the land of my captivity.”
I thank God for my faith, I am especially grateful for faith that has been nurtured in safe and loving home and in a school founded by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion Order. The Sisters describe their mission as the call to: Go to the desert where nobody goes; Go to the periphery where there is no power; Go to the frontier, a place of risk. Our school core values are inspired by this mission of solidarity with those at the margins and on the periphery. Slavery and human trafficking thrive on the margins, propelled by the cycle of poverty. Elizabeth Prout foundress of the Cross and Passion Order witnessed dire poverty and identified education as a means for people to improve their quality of life. I feel we have a responsibility to continue this work today, just like the sisters of the Cross and Passion to challenge the world for its injustice and neglect. We can overcome slavery and human trafficking. We can proclaim the passion; we can proclaim hope.
However, life in a Pandemic is restrictive and one could think that our ability to proclaim hope is on hold, but I believe that faith always calls us to action. I believe we can go to the margins and periphery of where we live in and open our eyes and really see. Each one of us must be on the lookout for signs of slavery and trafficking in our own community. Do you have a new Neighbour? Do you know your new neighbour? Does there seem to be a lot of people ‘visiting’ the house? Does there appear to be many people of different ages living in the house? These are all indictors of slavery and trafficking and we need to be alert. We also need to look out for signs of slavery in employment. Who is washing your car? Who did your nails? Do you know them? Did you strike up a conversation? Who is hidden in your plain sight?
I think about the example that Patrick set us in the letter to Coroticus, I believe it to be a master class in how we, you and me, challenge slavery today. Patrick was enslaved, he understood slavery, he knew of what he spoke. I think of Jesus, He spent 30 years living, experiencing and understanding, before he ever spoke out publically. If we want to be able to act effectively, we must be prepared to learn about this issue. Patrick in his letter amplifies voices of Coroticus victims, he does not speak for them; “her sons and daughters, not yet slain by the sword, but who are in exile, having been carried away into distant lands where serious and shameless sin openly abounds.” Instead of speaking for the victims of trafficking and slavery, we must look for ways to amplify THEIR voices. Furthermore, I see that Patrick in his letter does highlight the tragedy, but he also speaks of hope and resilience. “You have left this world for Paradise as Baptised Christians”. When we speak only of the tragedy of slavery and trafficking, and nothing of the resilience of the people involved, I think we paint them as helpless victims and we reinforce a false narrative of how this is all beyond hope and redemption and as we have seen, this is simply not true.
Like Patrick we should not remain silent in the face of injustice. The letter really speaks to my heart. The deaths of a group of Vietnamese migrants, lead me to learn, listen and question. Will convicting and imprisoning individual smugglers alone solve the problem? Why does current immigration policies and practices deny people safe and legal options to reach the UK? A Vietnamese anti-trafficking specialist stated: “We can’t really deter irregular migration to the UK without offering alternatives.” Pathways of legal and safe migration must be opened up alongside strengthening of job market safeguards here in the UK. I think these should be the real priorities to prevent such a tragedy recurring. The government must be made aware of the need to address these structural conditions. I must contact and lobby my MP; he has been elected to represent me before the government. Like Patrick I must not be disheartened if my first letter meets with derision. This is how faith leads to action. This is how we go to the periphery (even in a pandemic).
“Avarice is a deadly sin.” Patrick clearly identifies avarice as the root cause of Coroticus’ sin. This clearly has not changed in the generations following Patrick. Greed drives the modern slave trade. “This is an economic crime,” said Kevin Bales, a leading expert on contemporary slavery. In his TED Talk he also stated, “People do not enslave people to be mean to them; they do it to make a profit…” However, it is not shocking that that greed is the driving force in this evil. Jesus often told his followers about the dangers of greed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says quite clearly “you cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). Paul even suggests “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) How do we tackle the greed so prevalent in our society? Is a revolution required? A revolution of our hearts?
We are living in a society that has in many ways chosen ideas of secularization and individualism, have these hardened our hearts? Does our desire for material possessions and wealth give rise to unethical behavior? Has the revolution of heart been curtailed by Covid? Faith communities are disconnected by restrictions. My generations ability to engage in any social justice work is severely hampered if not impossible. I fear a generation who lose any connection with a faith community and who fail to realize that they can, and they must take steps to build a more just and caring world. We must know the
responsibility of our freedom is to ensure freedom is woven into the fabric of our society 2`and all of our souls engraved with dignity.
2 Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi (2007)