Make a pilgrimage to Colorado’s first shrine for victims of human trafficking

Guardian Angels Parish carries mission with St. Josephine Bakhita’s intercession

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It’s a reality.

On any given day during 2016, an estimate of 403,000 people were living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index. This evil that so many times seems foreign, also exists in America, and it may be much more common than many believed — ranging from forced labor to forced sexual exploitation of adults and children.

Nonetheless, where darkness is present, the light of prayer and charity can make a true difference.

Catholics in northern Colorado can now make an impact by making a pilgrimage to Guardian Angels Parish in Mead — located nearly 35 miles north of Denver on I-25 — which Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila designated as a shrine for victims of human trafficking in January 2018.

It all began with the devotion to St. Josephine Bakhita that Father Alan Hartway, CPPS, initiated even before he became pastor of the parish.

“Even when I started coming to the parish as a substitute priest in the early 2000s, I began to emphasize [the meaning of] hospitality to [our parishioners], and how important that was, as the forefront ministry of evangelization parishes,” he recounted. “So, I introduced them to St. Josephine Bakhita because she is also the patron saint of hospitality ministry —that was her work.”

The Sudanese-born saint was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. After being sold several times, she arrived in Italy, and was gifted to a family that gave her nursemaid duties.

The future saint would accompany the girl she cared for to catechism classes in Venice, where she met the Canossian Sisters and later decided to join the Church, adopting the name Josephine.

After refusing to return to Africa with the family that claimed rights over her, the Canossian Sisters testified on her behalf before a judge, who eventually ruled she was free, since slavery was illegal in Italy.

Bakhita joined the religious order, where she carried out her duties of cooking, sewing and welcoming guests, eventually becoming very loved by children and visitors.

“When we built our new Church, I requested from Archbishop Aquila that we have [St. Josephine’s] relic in our altar, and when we secured the relic from the Canossian Sisters, in that same letter he designated this [parish] as a shrine for victims of human trafficking. So, he challenged the parish to have a hospitality [that goes] very deep,” Father Hartway said.

MEAD, CO, Jan. 1, 2018: Guardian Angels Parish celebrates a dedication Mass of their newly built parish center with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. (Photo by Jason Weinrich | Denver Catholic)

While the parish community is still developing its mission, Father Hartway hopes to begin contributing to this cause by educating people on the reality of modern slavery, praying for the victims and welcoming people how they deserve to be welcomed.

“The first step is familiarizing people with [St. Josephine Bakhita’s] story. The plan is to build on that gradually and develop the full meaning of our shrine… We have started by praying [for the victims] and honoring her feast day Feb. 8. We have a nine-day novena beginning Jan. 31, expose her relic and icon during the novena and nine more days after that, and have named our parish hall the Bakhita Hall,” he said.

“We also want to help people realize the effect of human trafficking and modern slavery in the modern world, and to make people conscious — to provide a way for them to be generous to these kinds of causes. It also opens their hearts to hospitality to everyone… something we take seriously here. When people come here on pilgrimage, we would show them the hospitality maybe they’ve never had in their lives.”

Christians have observed the tradition of making pilgrimages to sacred sites since the first centuries of Christianity, when they would visit the tombs of the apostles and martyrs, and the Holy Land.

More than sightseeing, however, pilgrimages are deep and transformative spiritual journeys, which were even popular acts of sacrifice and penance for grave sins during the Middle Ages.

People can go on pilgrimage to ask for special intentions or causes to the patron saint of a specific shrine or sacred place.

St. Josephine Bakhita’s first-class relic is exposed during 18 days, beginning with the novena that leads up to hear fest day Feb. 8. (Photo provided)

The faithful in Colorado will now be able to make a pilgrimage to Guardian Angels Parish and ask for St. Bakhita’s intercession for the victims of human trafficking and their own special intentions.

“We welcome everyone, regardless of their language, their color, their race, etc.,” Father Hartway said, calling to mind that many victims of human trafficking in the United States are people from other countries who are forced to work in inhumane conditions, under domestic servitude, or at times are even exploited by the pornography industry.

“Migrants, and especially migrant women and children, are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery in the United States due to their ‘low level of education, inability to speak English, immigration status, and lack of familiarity with the U.S. employment protections,’” the 2018 Global Slavery Index attests.

Children, and particularly those who are or have been in the child welfare system, are also particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Amid this reality, the parish community at Guardian Angels Parish in Mead hopes to shine a light for victims of human trafficking by reflecting the spirit of the saint who, even after suffering the endless pains of slavery, was able to say, “The Lord has loved me so much: We must love everyone.”

COMING UP: Despite no Masses, you won’t believe what parishes are doing

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Despite no Masses, you won’t believe what parishes are doing

Livestreamed Masses, drive-through confession and more are sustaining the faithful during quarantine

Aaron Lambert

Nothing like creativity and some humor to make a tough situation a little easier to endure.

“It took generations, but they have succeeded where the rest of us have failed. Children, of all ages throughout the world, have successfully given up school for Lent,” St. John the Baptist Parish in Longmont posted on its Facebook page April 1. Quite a few “Haha” reactions ensued.

The post, of course, refers to the fact that because of the coronavirus pandemic, students are not attending classes in-person and are instead learning from home. This homebound engagement is true for pretty much every other public institution, including Catholic churches. Parishes across the Archdiocese of Denver are having to adapt to a temporary reality where Masses are empty.

Thankfully, that aforementioned creativity, strong communities and a little help from the internet are making it possible for parishes to still serve the faithful in plenty of ways. For many parishes, this means something as simple as livestreaming Masses for the faithful to participate in from home.

While it’s impossible to replace being physically present in the Mass, many seem appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to still engage with the sacred liturgy from afar.

“So grateful to have a Parish Staff that has responded to the current situation and found ways to continue offering sacraments and ministry,” wrote Jodee Hinton on Our Lady of the Valley’s Facebook page. “It was very special and much needed for my family to watch Mass today. My kids loved being able to see what actually happens on the altar.”

“Thank you Father, miss you and sharing Christ with you in person, but we will be with you soon with the help of Jesus Christ. Stay strong and safe,” wrote Judith Ann Aerne on Holy Cross in Thornton’s Facebook page.

Parishioners in their cars line up in the parking lot of Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora to have their confessions heard. Parishes are finding creative ways to offer the sacraments to the faithful while stay-at-home and social distancing orders are in place. (Photo provided by Queen of Peace)

Other parishes are also finding ways to continue providing other sacraments to the faithful. Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, for example, has launched drive-through confessions on Saturdays to ensure people still have the chance to receive to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and they’re not the only parish to do so. It’s just one of the ways that they’re able to stay connected to their parishioners while their doors are closed.

“Since they can no longer gather here, we’ve tried to go to them,” said Queen of Peace pastor Father Felix Medina. “We’ve stayed busy. We livestream at least three liturgies a day: Morning Prayer and Adoration in the morning, English Mass at noon and Spanish Mass in the evening.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the Church is still open and it’s more present than ever before, that we will not be silenced, that we won’t stop reaching out to people now,” Father Medina said.

And by reaching out, Father Medina doesn’t mean that figuratively. Queen of Peace and other parishes such as Assumption in Welby and St. John the Baptist in Longmont have been calling their parishioners one-by-one to check in on them and see if they can help with anything.

“We’re essentially asking three basic questions: one, how are you doing; two, do you need anything; and three, can we pray with you?” Father Daniel Ciucci of St. John the Baptist said in an interview with Fox 31.

Volunteers at St. John the Baptist make phone calls to check in on parishioners. Outreach from parishes has taken on a whole new meaning during the coronavirus outbreak, and they’re finding ways to rise to the occasion. (Photo provided by St. John the Baptist)

“As priests, we’ve maintained a life of prayer, but we’ve also been calling our parishioners,” Father Medina said. “We each try to call 50 or 100 a day. They’re very happy to hear us checking in on how they’re doing and how their family’s doing and whether they need anything – especially because we know some of them are lonely and are having a hard time.”

Of course, there’s a whole lot more that parishes do besides offer Mass, and they’re finding ways to keep those things going too. Nativity of Our Lord in Broomfield is offering assistance to parishioners who need it, whether it be delivering groceries or seeing a priest; Risen Christ in Denver is continuing its partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies and doing drive-up food distribution; youth ministers across the archdiocese are doing virtual youth group nights via Zoom. And that’s just scratching the surface.

The parishes of the Archdiocese of Denver will continue to find innovative and creative ways to serve the faithful through all of this. However, they need the vital support of their communities to do so. Many parishes have online giving portals set up through their own website, but you can also visit passthebasket.org to give to any parish in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.