She is a Consolata Missionary. Her name was very familiar to me but had never met her; so it was a great joy when I found her in one of the corridors at the centre in Abuja where the International conference on Human Trafficking was held last week.
I greeted her aware she did not know who I was. She wondered if I had come across Consolata Missionaries in South Africa. “Many of them” I said “and in many other countries too”. We had great fun when she discovered I am also a Consolata Missionary. From that moment she greeted me every morning with a “how are you my brother?”
Enough to look for Sr Eugenia Bonetti MC on Google and one would find lots of pages on her work and the awards she has received.
Sr Eugenia is chairperson of the "Slaves No More" non-profit organisation and coordinator of the Italian Religious Superiors’ Counter-trafficking Office for Women and Children. Her network extends to 30 different countries and works in the prevention, rehabilitation, and protection of the victims and their families as well as the repatriation and reintegration of the victims back in their homeland.”
Slaves no more works with other groups, organisations and associations, both in Italy and in countries of origin, transit and destination of trafficked women to give a future to young women who have been deprived of their dignity, freedom and any prospect of decent life.
While in Abuja, we spoke here and there for a few minutes but it was Thursday morning, once the meeting had ended and we were free from other appointments, when she shared her story during breakfast.
It was as if I had St Paul in front of me telling me the moment he met the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus. “It happened in 1993... The way I understood both mission and service radically changed. I had been transferred to Italy after serving in Kenya for 24 hours. I was working for Caritas Turin when that girl arrived... Mary was her name. She hardly spoke Italian so we used English. She told me her story, started crying and said... 'please Sister help me! Help me!”. She had mentioned that before. It was clearly the moment that changed her life.
Meeting Mary changed in her not only the way she understood religious ministry and Mission but her whole life until today.
Maria, she says, became her catechist, helping her understand the complex routes by which so many women and girls end up trafficked from places across the globe, to be bought and sold, beaten and raped and end up working the streets of our so-called civilized countries.
Sr Eugenia constantly carries in her heart the suffering for the girls victims of human trafficking. Tuesday, having finished a lively celebration of the Mass at “Our Lady Queen of Nigeria” (Abuja), she had only one thought to share with me outside: “I kept on crying during Mass and thinking of all those girls at Ponte Galeria (the Centre for Identification and Expulsion in Rome which she visits weekly)... They could have been enjoying a celebration like this one but...! We need to do something!”
She does not hide her suffering for the support she could get and she does not. “I am 78 years' old! I do not give up. Why do we have missionaries who have already retired? They retired before their time!" She then mentioned a Bishops' conference who never said a word on human trafficking even though it is a clear reality among them. “On the other hand you have the bishops of Nigeria who years' ago issued a statement and asked the priests not to preach for two Sundays and instead read the statement at every Mass. That is what we need!”
From the beginning she understood that she could not work alone and that she had to go beyond her own community. Therefore, between 2003 and 2013, 60 religious sisters from 27 different countries and 28 religious communities became part of the weekly visits to Ponte Galeria. This is just one of the many initiatives she started.
I knew I had a long flight back so I decided to buy one her books: "Spezzare le catene: la battaglia per la dignità delle donne" (Breaking the chains: the battle for the dignity of women) which she wrote with Anna Pozzi an Italian journalist of "Mondo e Missione" and writer (with whom we've known each other since 2005).
"Will you come and visit us next time you are in Rome?" "Sure", I said. Looking forward to that.