Where is the humanity of those who exploit other persons? (Card. Tagle)

6 September 2016
+ Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle

In the name of Caritas Internationalis I welcome the participants from various Episcopal Conferences and Caritas organizations of Africa and Europe, as well as sisters and brothers from the Anglican and Lutheran communities, representatives of Muslim communities and of international organizations and governments committed to combatting trafficking of human beings. While we are encouraged by our common effort called “One Voice”, we are also disheartened by the fact that in our so-called modern civilized world, we still have to address the issue of trafficking and slavery. And we gather in this continent where from the island of Gore, Senegal millions of Africans went through to become slaves until 1848 when slavery was abolished in French territories. But the phenomenon has not disappeared. Unfortunately it has returned in new forms but with the same destructive force.

Human Ecology

Human trafficking, the many forms of which lead to the same exploitation of human beings is a “crime against humanity.” It violates the very essence, nature and dignity of human beings as well as their capacity to build relationships and communities contributing to the common good. We ask, “Do the traffickers see human beings in those they are exploiting?” At the same time we ask, “Where is the humanity of those who exploit other persons?” We need to ask, “What type of relationship leads to commodification of human beings, to their exploitation for profit and to the denial of their innate value as humans?” One path towards an answer is the category of human ecology, a topic dear to Pope Francis and his predecessors St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Let us consider three aspects of human ecology.

First, in the social sciences, human ecology “deals with the spatial and temporal interrelationships between humans and their economic, social and political organization” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). While biology studies interrelationships between living organisms, human ecology scrutinizes how our values, lifestyles, use and misuse of resources influence and affect the social, cultural, economic and political environment that we create. In human ecology we do not deal only with biological life systems but primarily with the world as constructed by human beings, by human meaning or meaninglessness. 

Secondly, the Church attributes to human ecology another profound reality: “the relationship between human life and the moral law which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment” (Laudato si 155). Human relationships and the structures or systems they generate cannot be divorced from morality. Pope John Paul II already noticed that there was little effort made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology” (Centessimus annus 38).

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” (Laudato si 155). Pope Francis employs this insight in talking about the human body. He says that “our body itself establishes a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings…The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father… whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.” (Laudato si 155). He adds, “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.” 

Respect for the natural ecology of the human body and respect for moral law are indispensable for a healthy human ecology or social environment created by human relations. Human trafficking is a symptom of distorted and disrupted relationships with our selves, with the created world and with society. It is an expression of a culture of pride, self-sufficiency, greed and discarding or throwing away the outcasts.

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