Parishes and port chaplaincies can play a key role in tackling human rights abuses at sea, especially for those trapped in the “invisible chains” of human trafficking, Ferns’s Bishop Denis Brennan has said.
“People imagine it happens somewhere else, but it happens here too,” Dr Brennan told The Irish Catholic, adding that given the scale of the problem in the UK, “we can’t imagine we’re isolated from this issue”.
The bishop’s comments come after a week-long conference in Taiwan, where he and 250 bishops, chaplains and academics discussed human trafficking and other abuses under the theme ‘Caught in the net’.
Speaking at the beginning of the 24th World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, the bishop had described human trafficking as “modern slavery”, and said the Church can offer “‘safe harbours’ for those who seek our care” in ports around the world.
Port chaplains, he told The Irish Catholic, engage in “silent unseen work, but work that is vital for the welfare of so many who transport to us so much, who supply us with food and goods and who have needs themselves, from a simple word of encouragement to a need to speak of difficulties, fears or abuses”.
Noting the extent of Irish engagement with the sea, whether through fishing or through trade, he said he was “looking to make sure we’re not sleepwalking through something that’s closer to home than we might think”.
Dr Brennan attended the conference as bishop promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea and as the Irish bishops’ representative in the Santa Marta group, an alliance of police chiefs, bishops, and civic leaders who work to tackle the issue of human trafficking.
Praising the work of Rose Kearney, administrator of Dublin’s Stella Maris centre, and her team, Dr Brennan added that Church support for victims of human trafficking or other abuses should not be limited to port chaplaincies.
“Parishes and caring communities are good places where people who do feel trapped or trafficked can provide a listening ear, and an opportunity or an opening to get out,” he said.
“It’s proven very effective in England,” he added.