OP Tom Burke (01-12) recently met the Pope at an international conference to combat modern slavery held in the Vatican in February.
Tom is currently employed with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, where he works across a number of 'International Affairs' issues, including modern slavery, migration policy, and refugee resettlement, and provides support to delegations from the Catholic Church in England and Wales when they go to places such as the Holy Land, Nigeria, and Iraq.
He met the Pope through his work organising the international conference of the Santa Marta Group, an initiative of the Catholic Church to bring together Church and law enforcement to combat modern slavery. The conference took place in the Vatican at the start of February, with representatives from over 30 countries attending as well as international agencies, such as Europol and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. Delegates included the heads of the Catholic Church in Myanmar, Nigeria, the United Kingdom - Cardinal Bo, Cardinal Onaiyekan, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, respectively. Law enforcement representatives included Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick, General Commissioner of the Argentine Police Nestor Roncaglia, and Algirdas Stončaitis, the Chancellor of the Government of Lithuania.
Tom said: “Meeting Pope Francis was incredible – his leadership, both on the issue of modern slavery and of the Church more generally, is an inspiration to people of all faiths and none, and particularly as a Catholic meeting him, and having the chance to exchange a few words, was a moment of great spiritual significance to me – a privilege and an honour.”
You can read more about the conference, and listen or read interviews of delegates from Poland, Sierra Leone, Greece, Nigeria, and more, on the Santa Maria Group website here. More info on the Santa Marta Group and human trafficking can be found here. Cardinal Nichols also wrote a blog on it recently which may be useful – see here.
Slavery and human trafficking are very much UK issues as well as global ones – the UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland estimates that there are as many as 13,000 people in slavery in the UK, and the International Labour Organisation estimate that 40 million people are enslaved worldwide. Pope Francis has described human trafficking as "An open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity."