CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Over the past two decades, the “a-ha” moment has happened in different ways and at different times for different people — but gradually, it’s happened for us all. Law enforcement, legislators, social workers and members of the American public alike have all come to realize two important truths when it comes to the growing criminal enterprise that is human trafficking: it’s our problem, and it will only be solved when we all play a part.
For the International Union of Superiors General, that moment came in the early 2000s. The global gathering of superiors general of women’s religious orders approved a strong resolution to “address insistently and at every level” the trafficking of girls, women and children in 2001.
“I think for us American sisters, this was really a wake-up call, because we had heard of human trafficking but we kind of thought this was something that happened in Asia and Africa and was not really prevalent in the United States,” said Sr. Ann. “And we were wrong.”
In 2009, the IUSG officially founded Talitha Kum, an umbrella organization that has come to encompass 52 networks of religious sisters in 92 countries fighting against human trafficking. Sr. Ann, who is based at Alverno College as the National Coordinator for the National Catholic Sisters Project, represents the United States on the International Coordination Committee of Talitha Kum, and at the end of September, she traveled to Rome for the group’s first general assembly.
While there, she and other Talitha Kum delegates met with Pope Franciss, who thanked them for their work helping more than 15,500 survivors and involving about 235,000 people in prevention activities worldwide.
“This is also a model of how to work together,” he told the 86 sisters who assembled in Rome. “It is an example for the whole Church, and also for us: men, priests, bishops. You are giving a great example – keep at it.”
With a presence on all six inhabited continents, Talitha Kum networks are able to provide support and advocacy for survivors of human trafficking, share best practices and communications across borders and collaborate on a global scale in the fight against human trafficking. The American network is the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
Though a lot of progress has been made in the past decade, said Sr. Ann, a true understanding of the structures and circumstances leading to human trafficking and the real impact of this criminal enterprise is “still unfolding.” A collaborative approach like the one employed by Talitha Kum is key, she added.
“This is an issue that is cross-cutting across all barriers. We’re able to work really effectively with people of other faiths,” she said. “In doing these programs, we’ve formed some really interesting alliances. We work with police departments, Truckers Against Trafficking, with hotels; we work with all kinds of different groups.”
Awareness of the problem is increasing, as are prosecutions and arrests. But what will really flip the script, said Sr. Ann, is when the whole “equation” of human trafficking changes.
“Right now, it’s a high-profit and low-risk enterprise. Things will really begin to change when we’re able to flip this equation to a low-profit and high-risk enterprise,” she said.
In the meantime, she and other Talitha Kum assembly participants are inspired by the Holy Father’s address to them Sept. 26.
“At the end of his remarks he told us — and this has stayed with me — he said: ‘Never end the day without thinking about the gaze of one of the victims you have known: this will be a beautiful prayer.’”
Sr. Ann’s passion for working against human trafficking fits in perfectly with her day job, which is to highlight the many and varied ways that religious sisters have made contributions to the Catholic community and the world as a whole. She moved to Milwaukee in 2017 to head up the National Catholic Sisters Project, which is funded by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The mission of the Alverno-based project is to raise the visibility of religious sisters.
“We really would like people to know that we’re still around,” said Sr. Ann. “Our lifestyle is very viable and vital, and we have a great history, but it’s not just about the history. We continue to have a profound effect on issues that affect the lives of people here in all sectors of society, including education, healthcare, and care for the vulnerable, including children.”
For more information on Talitha Kum, visit www.talithakum.info. For more information on the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, visit www.sistersagainsttrafficking.org.