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: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images