Fighting against human trafficking with faith, action

November 10, 2015

HOUSTON — In recent months, Pope Francis has talked about the tragedy of human trafficking. According to the United Nations, there are 21 million victims worldwide, thousands of whom are in the U.S. Houston is a major hub for human trafficking in the U.S., with victims in both labor and sex trafficking. 

Inspired by Pope Francis’s wish that Catholics worldwide do everything in their power to fight human trafficking, the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Catholic community sponsored a weekend focused on raising community awareness about human trafficking. The weekend coincides with the recent launch of the parish’s Amistad Houston initiative.

The three-day event started on Thursday, Oct. 22, with a “Wine and Food Social” during which Dr. Hillary Chester, associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Anti-Trafficking Task Force, discussed the Church’s response to human trafficking and how this tragic crime affects our communities. She spoke about efforts being done at the international, national and local level.

“The Co-Cathedral volunteers have been hosting baby showers for survivors of trafficking,” she said. “They’ve been setting up apartments for victims right after being encountered to get them into good, safe housing, to welcome them into their new homes, bless the homes to make those homes feel safe and feel like a real shelter.” 

Father Hai Dang, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, spoke about his personal experience with child labor. In 1982, Father Dang, who was from Vietnam, was 12 years old in Thailand and forced to work.

“I remember I was once with a lot of boys about my age and we would get together and we had jobs,” he said. “Some of us ended up working in factories making shoes, making shirts, making all kinds of stuff. Some of us would sell marijuana, heroin, etc.”

Father Dang said he was away from his loved ones forced to sell marijuana and cigarettes. 

“I was hungry,” he said. “I had no one to help me out.”

Father Dang said he is grateful that thanks to the U.S. Catholic Bishops he was able to come to America. 

“I come here before you tonight to share with you my short story to tell you that the work we do here will make a difference for someone out there,” he said. “Years ago, Catholics went to church and put money in the collection basket for second collection. It somehow made its way to Thailand and rescued a child like me.”

On Oct. 23, a Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was offered for victims of human trafficking, and on Saturday, Oct. 24, the parish hosted their “Pray and Play Golf Tournament” at Hermann Park.

Immediately following the Mass on Friday, Father Lawrence Jozwiak led those gathered in praying the USCCB’s newly published Stations of the Cross for victims and victimizers of human trafficking. Afterwards, the Co-Cathedral rector said he was extremely impressed by how the stations informed us about the tragedy of human trafficking in all aspects — listening to the Scriptures, hearing a meditation connecting this tragedy to the Way of the Cross (Jesus’ passion) and then praying on that specific meditation. 

“Our goal for the weekend’s events is to bring awareness to our parish community and guests about this hidden evil in our city and introduce them to ways in which they can help prevent this crime against humanity,” said Wendy Garaghty, coordinator of the Co-Cathedral’s Outreach and Social Ministry program. “It begins with awareness. You can’t do anything about something you don’t know about.” 

The weekend coincided with the parish’s launch of Amistad Houston, the local chapter of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Migration Services’ national human trafficking prevention and educational initiative, the Amistad Movement. 

“Amistad Houston is our awareness and educational effort,” Garaghty said. “Through the initiative we will seek to inform the vulnerable by educating parishes, schools and ministries about the issues of modern day slavery.

“Our goal is to spread this movement throughout the network of the Church,” she continued. “The Church is already a trusted entity in these locations, so we have the ability to bring to the vulnerable this message to beware of the dangers of falling victim. Through this program, we will empower the vulnerable to be their own community educators, spreading this message to their neighbors, friends, co-workers and family.” 

Amistad Houston’s model includes four categories: Education, Advocacy, Services and Outreach. These four categories are known as the Church’s Response. Using volunteers and working in partnership with several local agencies in the city, the initiative aims to heal victims of human trafficking as well as increase awareness, advocacy and ultimately prevent this human tragedy.

To find out more about the Co-Cathedral’s human trafficking awareness campaign and Amistad Houston visit

Get Connected
To find out more about the Co-Cathedral’s human trafficking awareness campaign and Amistad Houston visit:, or follow on Twitter @amistadhouston. To report a suspected circumstance of human trafficking, text #BeFree.