VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis and Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury committed their Churches on Monday to work more closely together to fight “the grave evil” of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, held talks with Francis at the Vatican on how to combat what both Churches have called a crime against humanity.
“It is a crime that we all need to overcome as a matter of urgency, as a matter of human dignity, freedom and wholeness of life. May God give us the resolve and cooperation we need together,” Welby told the pope in his address.
Francis, leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, spoke of their shared “horror in the face of the scourge of human trafficking and forms of modern-day slavery”.
“(The Churches must) stand together, with perseverance and determination, in opposing this grave evil,” the pope added.
According to a global slavery index issued last year by the Walk Free Foundation charity, nearly 30 million people, including children, live in slavery worldwide, many of them trafficked by gangs for sex work and unskilled labor.
Welby, 58, is the 109th leader of the Church which was formed when England’s King Henry VIII split from Rome in 1534.
Neither Welby nor Francis spoke of the doctrinal differences dividing the two Churches, such as a female priesthood, which the Anglican Church allows but Rome forbids.
The 77-year-old Argentinian pope noted that while “the goal of full unity may seem distant indeed,” the goal should still guide the Churches and their members in their daily relations.
Despite doctrinal differences, they have found common ground on social issues and have recently stepped up their joint efforts, including at the grass roots level, to raise global awareness about human trafficking and slavery.
Both support the Global Freedom Network, an inter-religious initiative that encourages faith leaders to help victims.
Catholic nuns, for example, have formed the International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons, known as Talitha Kum (Little Girl, Arise), a phrase in Aramaic taken from the Bible. It has members in more than 30 countries.
Last month, another group of nuns backed by the pope raised the alarm over increased risks of human trafficking, exploitation of workers, forced prostitution and sexual tourism at the soccer World Cup in Brazil.
On Sunday, Welby agreed that the proceeds of a charity cricket match to be played between squads from the Vatican and the Church of England in September in Canterbury would go to organizations fighting human trafficking.
Editing by Gareth Jones