Major religious faiths around the world are joining forces to fight the scourge of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Australian billionaire and mining magnate Andrew Forrest has signed up major religious heavyweights –Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Egypt, Islam’s highest-ranking Sunni cleric.
This week their representatives gathered at the Vatican to sign on to Andrew Forrest’s initiative, the Global Freedom Network.
Forrest joined Amanpour in her London studio, along with Archbishop David Moxon of the Anglican Church and Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo of the Catholic Church.
“I got dragged, really, kicking and screaming, into this cause by my daughter, Grace,” Forrest said. “When she was 15, she worked in an orphanage in Nepal and our intelligence was that there was something was suspect about the orphanage.”
When she returned to the orphanage they discovered that the only children left were “severely disfigured” or “mentally handicapped, i.e. could not be sold.”
The Global Freedom Network has ambitious goals: to get 162 governments to publicly endorse the fund, get 50 multi-national businesses to modern slavery-proof their supply chains, and convince the G20 to adopt an anti-slavery initiative.
Bishop Sorondo, who serves as chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, brought with him to the studio an original letter written by Pope Francis, addressed to him, expressing his enthusiasm about the issue.
“‘Marcelo, I believe that could be very important to study the question of human trafficking and modern slavery,’” the Pope wrote.
“The Archbishop of Canterbury had heard of Pope Francis’ passion for modern slavery and human trafficking, and the struggle against both of them,” Archbishop David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See, told Amanpour.
At a lunch last year, at which Archbishop Moxon was present, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, raised the issue to the Pope.
“That early initiative of the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury has really been the force within faith-based organizations to bring us to this point today,” Archbishop Moxon said.
It was the first time since the Reformation, hundreds of years ago, that Anglicans and Catholics have gotten together in a “major operating agreement,” Forrest said.
“Once we had that, then the credibility we had to approach the Sunnis to say this is how far the Christian faith has come,” he told Amanpour.
The Grand Imam of the al-Azhar mosque, the highest-ranking Sunni cleric, signed on immediately.
“It was absolutely groundbreaking,” Forrest said.
Forrest also told Amanpour on Tuesday that the head of the Muslim World League, which reports to Ayatollah Sistani – head of Shia Islam – had just signed on to the initiative.
“The soul of all the culture is the religion, that is [a] historical thing,” Bishop Sorrondo said. “And if we take the soul of the culture, we take the population.”
Religion brings three important things to the fight, Archbishop Moxon said.
“First of all, there’s credibility on the ground. There are examples of Catholic nuns, Anglican city missioners, many other faith-based operations rescuing people from trafficking all the time.”
“Secondly, though, there’s the moral challenge to political leaders, which we represent as global faiths, keeping it on the front burner all the time.”
“Thirdly, though, there’s the important message that every sacred text can be utilized to challenge the notion that this is immoral, that liberation, that freedom, that redemption are the heart of what we’re about.”
“We have the global reach and every square inch of the Earth when you’ve got a faith-based approach together.”
Pope Francis in particular, Bishop Sorondo said, is aware of the scope of the problem.
“He knew this when he was bishop in Buenos Aires,” he said. “He knows, because he [has visited] directly these village[s], these areas, as we say, and the slums.”