On February 8, 2021, The John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy offered a series of events honoring International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. The event series was in cooperation with Campus Ministry, the Catholic Identity Committee of the Law School Faculty at St. Thomas University, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking, and Catholic Health Association of the United States. Over 350 professionals from throughout the United States and six continents participated.
The day’s events opened with a Prayer Service for Reflection and Action against Human Trafficking where members of the faith community joined to reflect and pray for victims and survivors of human trafficking as they strengthened their resolve to combat trafficking in persons. David A. Armstrong, J.D., President of St. Thomas University, welcomed participants and began with a moment of silence and prayer in remembrance of FBI Special Agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Daniel Alfin who died heroically the prior week in Sunrise, Florida, while executing a warrant related to child sexual abuse images.
Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, opened the Service with remarks and prayer. “God of justice, Christ of peace. . . Help us shine your light into the places where your children are enslaved. Help us shine your light into homes, streets, factories, brothels, into our own neighborhoods and across the world,” prayed Bishop Dorsonville. Several participants from across the nation provided reflections, songs, and prayers in Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, English, French, Italian, and Spanish.
David A. Armstrong, J.D., President of St. Thomas University, next welcomed participants to a panel, Survivor Perspectives: Informing our Work against Human Trafficking. “Survivors of human trafficking are the heartbeat of the fight against trafficking in persons, and we are proud to have survivor leaders at St. Thomas University and its John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy as our honored guests and distinguished panelists today,” said President Armstrong. “We must acknowledge the importance of learning from the perspectives and lived experiences of survivors to inform our work alongside survivors and against human trafficking.”
Participating in the panel was the Honorable Robert R. Lung, District Court Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit of Colorado and past Chair and Member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, Mrs. Kalypso Vassalotti, advocate and alumna of the 2016 Human Trafficking Academy, the Honorable Kwami Adoboe-Herrera, Member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, Ms. Rebekah Charleston, strategic initiatives director of the Jensen Project, and the moderator, Maria Florencia Cornu Laport, Esq., Assistant Professor of Academic Success of St. Thomas University College of Law.
During the panel, Ms. Charleston encouraged participants to empower survivors within their organizations, and shared how she became the executive director of an organization that she first went to as a client for hope and healing. Mr. Adoboe-Herrera expressed how the faith community played a crucial role in his life, including his adoptive parents who instilled in him the love of God, and discussed the importance of prayer and people of faith in ending the heinous crime of human trafficking. Citing Mark 4:21, Judge Lung inspired participants to let their lights shine by using the gifts that God has given them to make a difference in the lives of survivors.
The day concluded with a Mass for prayer and awareness against human trafficking presided by Father Capó at the Chapel of St. Anthony at St. Thomas University, followed by a reception.
“The Academy has since 2015 joined Pope Francis in prayer on the Feast Day of St. Josephine Bakhita, as he urges ‘government leaders [to] work decisively to remove the causes of this disgraceful scourge, . . . unworthy of society.’ The Holy Father has an awe-inspiring commitment that captivates Catholics worldwide, and indeed people of all faiths, as well as those of none – all people of good will. The Academy at St. Thomas University continues to recognize and appreciate the critical role of faith-based organizations – and in particular the unselfish dedication of women religious – against human trafficking. It was a privilege to have people of faith from all corners of the world join with us today in prayer and solidarity against trafficking in persons,” said Dr. Roza Pati, the Academy’s Founder and Director.