“This Forum is to rectify the direction society is heading in, and to find real and concrete means to fight against this unacceptable expression of abuse and evil in our present day and age….Each day, whether through our televisions, newspapers and magazines, we hear about stories that shock us all, and we can no longer remain idle. We have come together to put our words into action. Silence and passive acceptance of the present situation is no longer possible or acceptable . It never really was, anyway.”
from the Opening Address by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at “Awareness, Action and Impact: A Forum on Modern Slavery,” Istanbul, January 7, 2019
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convened the First International Forum on Modern Slavery, “Sins Before Our Eyes,” in Istanbul, 2017. Since that first International Forum, just two years ago, his vision for Orthodox Christian engagement and solidarity to act, learn, witness and work toward the elimination of this sin against millions of people worldwide has taken root with tremendous early results. He formed the Patriarchal Task Force on Modern Slavery, coordinated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of the Dardanelles, and has since convened two more International Fora, in Buenos Aires 2018 and Istanbul 2019. His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas invited the St. Anthony Parish in Pasadena, its clergy, Reverend Fr. Peter Stratos, Proistamenos and Reverend Christopher Retelas, Associate Pastor, and several dynamic lay leaders to spearhead a grassroots local effort to fight this scourge against humanity. The community of St. Anthony, which serves 315 member families, responded wholeheartedly by hosting:
* a first-ever Festival of Tables from Around the World, as an inspirational and fundraising event;
A few months after the Festival of Tables from Around the World and under the Auspices of his All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, with the full support of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, and at the encouragement of His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas, the St. Anthony Committee extended invitations to members of other Orthodox jurisdictions in the southern California region to join in this new Ministry or Diakonia of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Now organized formally as O.C.C.A.S.T. [Orthodox Christian Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking] they have:
* hosted an Action and Education Forum Against Human Trafficking in November 2018 as an educational and networking event for the community at large;
* presented and hosted a Youth Workshop and Information Booth at the Greek Orthodox FDF Folk Dance Festival in February 2019 in Ontario, CA;
* sent Reverend Fr. Christopher Retelas to the Third International Forum on Modern Slavery, Awarenesss, Action and Impact in Istanbul Jan 2019 to report the international gathering about the grassroots efforts and successes of O.C.C.A.S.T. Other members of O.C.C.A.S.T. also travelled to Istanbul in support of the Forum against Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.
* developed a website for news updates, educational information, emergency contacts and local assistance resources: occast.org
The “Festival of Tables from Around the World" Fundraiser was one of the most beautiful events hosted at St. Anthony’s. Each table was decorated to represent a different country. Some 250 people attended and raised $40,000 at this one-day event. The proceeds from this May 2018 event benefited the new Diakonia of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Theotokos Orphanage and St. Ignatius School in Kolkata, India founded by Orthodox Sister Nektaria and His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas. The Theotokos Orphanage gives a safe home to 140 orphaned girls, who would otherwise be at the mercy of human traffickers in India. The St. Ignatius School educates 635 students, preparing them for gainful employment and better life opportunities than would be possible without education, which is not free to all children in India.
The Action and Educational Forum Against Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery was held on Sunday, November 4, 2018 at Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena, CA. This event was held with the blessings of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and with the support of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. Leading this effort was His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of the Dardanelles, Coordinator of the Patriarchal Task Force on Modern Slavery.
This event drew a Pan-Orthodox crowd, as well as concerned citizens who took the opportunity to learn from professionals from a variety of organizations, working to prevent and combat Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery while rescuing and protecting its victims. There were 300 people in attendance who actively engaged in presentations that were both informative and also provided a call to action as to how, both individually and collectively, people can make a difference in helping to address and eradicate this terrible plight befalling so many innocent people.
Several Orthodox clergy from parishes throughout southern California were present with their parishioners, as well as the San Francisco Metropolis Philoptochos President Jeannie Ranglas and many of the Metropolis Philoptochos Board members. (The Philoptochos is the duly accredited women’s philanthropic society of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America whose purpose is to help the poor, the hungry, the aged, the sick, the needy; and to promote charitable, benevolent, and philanthropic purposes of the Archdiocese.) Father Christopher also served as the Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon event. His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America and His Grace Bishop Maxim from the Diocese of Western American of the Serbian Orthodox Church also sent letters of support for this Pan Orthodox event. In addition to His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas, presenters included Sheriff Jim McDonnell from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office; Lisa Coen, Deputy in Charge from the Human Trafficking Section of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office; and Susan Patterson, Director of Through God’s Grace Ministry and author of “How You Can Fight Human Trafficking: Over 100 Ways To Make a Difference”.
The most moving testimony was offered by a young woman who gave a powerful and inspirational personal witness of survival and victory from the dark world of human trafficking. She saved herself and her two young children from this horrendous and dangerous situation, and encourages the belief that survivors are overcomers.
Thirteen community organizations were present and provided additional materials and contacts for all those interested in taking action and volunteering for or with them:
Bureau of Victim Services, CASA of Los Angeles, East LA Women’s Center, Fair Trade LA—Five Acres, Journey Out, Men Standing Against Trafficking, Redeeming Love, San Gabriel Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, Saving Innocence, the Ekota Film— Theotokos Girls’ Orphanage in India, Through God’s Grace, Trafficking Victims Assistance Program Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, and Women Against Child Trafficking.
Additional Resources: Polaris Project, UNODC, BlueCampaign video from DHS, fightthenewdrug.org.
In addition, the United Orthodox Communities Committee, now officially named O.C.C.A.S.T., provided each attendee with a small take-home Program & Resource Guide with the online contact information for each of the these organizations and their representatives, as well as graphics, statistics, and additional facts about the global crisis of Human Trafficking. (see attached)
It was an honor for our group, O.C.C.A.S.T., to have representation at the “Third International Forum Against Modern Slavery: Awarenes, Action and Impact” held in Istanbul in January 2019. Reverend Fr. Christopher Retelas was present at this Forum as the Representative of O.C.C.A.S.T. His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, in his opening address, even lauded the efforts that have been taken in Pasadena in the fight against Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. With worldwide representation and participation of esteemed guests and experts, Rev. Fr. Retelas and all those present for this International Forum learned about various legal issues, migrant struggles, and grassroots efforts being made around the world. Rev. Fr. Retelas also had the opportunity to participate in an inter-Orthodox consultation at the Forum, where he was able to share the efforts and events that have occurred in Pasadena through the work of O.C.C.A.S.T, as well as to learn from other Orthodox individuals and ministries on what else in being done to combat the sin of Human Trafficking.
At the Greek Orthodox Folk Dance Festival, an annual Ministry of the Metropolis of San Francisco, over 3000 Orthodox Christians gather to celebrate their heritage and faith over a four-day weekend, with folk dancing competitions, choral group competitions, faith workshops, church services, recognition of dance group service (diakonia) projects throughout the year, vendor displays, and general fellowship. This year Reverend Fr Christopher Retelas presented a workshop specific to combating human trafficking in our local region. It was attended by over 200 people, dancers and parents—a record workshop attendance. This was an opportunity to give our youth and their families some necessary and shocking information. The dedication of an entire workshop, so well attended, is evidence that the Orthodox Church is taking an active role in fighting Human Trafficking. O.C.C.A.S.T. believes the more we know, the better prepared we are to prevent this crime against humanity, against the human person. Some basic facts:
* Southern California is one of the largest hubs of human sex trafficking.
* Human trafficking and modern slavery is a $150 Billion Global Industry affecting over 40.3 million people.
* Sex Trafficking in the US is a $32 Billion Industry, which claims over 100K children a year.
* Children are targeted by recruiters (their own age) on school campuses, the internet, and social gatherings from the age of 12 for girls and 11 for boys.
* Recruiters have a presence on every middle school and high school campus in the San Gabriel Valley.
* 1/3 of runaways will get coerced into prostitution within 48 hours of running away.
* Young people exiting the foster care system are particularly vulnerable.
* The sin of pornography on the internet has created a huge demand. It is an addiction. Brain scans of a person watching pornography are worse than a brain on heroine.
* 85% of human trafficking and modern slavery in the US is sex trafficking. Sex for profit involving minors is automatically charged as human trafficking, not prostitution. THERE IS NO CONSENT.
*Globally, modern slavery and human trafficking manifest as slave labor, organ theft, forced adoption, and sex trafficking. People kept without documents, without freedom, proper living conditions, proper pay or the means to escape their servitude.
Steps Everyone Can Take Now
1. KNOW WHAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE DOING ONLINE. Set up privacy settings on their social media. And set limits for time online. WATCH FOR ABNORMAL ATTACHMENT TO THEIR DEVICES, OR EVEN SECONDARY CELL PHONES.
2. BUY FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS. Many products are now labeled especially Fair Trade Coffee and Chocolate. This is an enormous step which will help end modern slave labor around the world. Even overstock.com has a link to Worldstock Handmade products if you just search Fair Trade products in the search window. Worldstock purchases high quality goods which support women, disabled people, traditional artisans and other disadvantaged people, goods produced through microcredit. It supports businesses that sustain rather than use up people cultures and natural resourses. Knowing the origin of the products we buy is a powerful first step.
*If you can’t find a fair trade label, buy local produce or domestically made products.
3. ENCOURAGE ALL THE MEN YOU KNOW TO JOIN IN THIS FIGHT. Men represent the primary demand for sex trafficking, and their voices are required to end this scourge.
4. NATIONAL HOTLINE NUMBER FOR ASSISTANCE TO VICTIMS 1-888-373-7888 OR TEXT BeFree to 23733.
5. BE MINDFUL WHEN TRAVELING: Very often people are being trafficked before our eyes. Women who are clearly old enough to carry their own documents and money, but don’t, and are constantly accompanied by another male or female adult who controls all the travel papers and money are often a case of human trafficking in plain sight. This happens in nearly every airport around the world. BE AWARE. These victims often seek to communicate discreetly with their eyes when going to the ladies room, for example.
6. HOST A FORUM IN YOUR COMMUNITY. This problem exists everywhere, in every community, affecting every demographic. Solutions begin locally.
O.C.C.A.S.T suggests the following guidelines to host a forum in your community. The first forum hosted at St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church was enormously successful, and serves as a very useful model. Some of the most experienced speakers and organizations fighting human trafficking who attended, commented they had never seen such a well attended forum of this kind. We are pleased to announce that several other Orthodox communities in San Diego CA, Belmont CA and Portland OR are organizing fora to educate their communities and to fight Human Trafficking. We invite you to join our coalition O.C.C.A.S.T. We continue our outreach and provide further aid to a survivor in our area. We provide an opportunity for Orthodox Christians to connect and join the fight against Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Our goal is to create a nationwide network.
How to Host a Forum against Human Trafficking
The purpose of the forum is to educate your community and others about modern slavery and human trafficking (forcing, threatening, coercing victims into involuntary servitude or sex acts for commerce). This forum should not only raise awareness in your communities but also offer suggestions to protect your youth and identify helpful organizations. This is not fundraiser.
Begin with a committee of five or six members. Establish subcommittees for facilities, refreshments, program, publicity, and organizations. Be sure to have the full support of the parish priest and parish council. Establish a budget and gather funds either by donations or sponsorships. Remember the forum itself is free to all who attend. Determine the date, time and place for the event. Often the hosting parish will have a facility.
Program—This is the most critical area. There are many good speakers on this subject. Select five or six giving each of them 10-15 minutes (making the program portion about 1 ½ hours). Speakers should include: a spiritual father (parish priest) who can briefly present the Orthodox faith’s concern about this issue as an introduction; the local sheriff and district attorney organizations who deal with victims; a survivor of human trafficking (found through an organization helping them); Susan Patterson, the author of the book How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, someone she recommends, or a speaker who will give a summary of Ms. Patterson’s book. The master of ceremony must be aware of the clock and invite questions in the format the speakers prefer, either during their presentation or after all presentations.
Publicity—Once the program is set, prepare a “save the date flyer.” Send it to all local area churches, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, synagogues, community centers and any local institutions willing to support educating the public about this human crisis. This forum is intended to serve the entire community at large, so request they insert it in the weekly bulletins. This may be done effectively via email. Be sure to include a contact number for more information. Contact local publications (newspapers and throwaway publications) and request they include information in their community involvement section.
Facility—Determine the room layout. The first forum by O.C.C.A.S.T. at St. Anthony used theater-style seating with a stage at one end. Provide a speaker podium, large screen and microphone. Opposite the stage (at the back of the room) set up a refreshment area and on the sides of the room have organizations set up their displays at preset tables. At the main door we had a table for the welcoming committee. Discuss capacity and number of seats facing the stage. Either set up the room for a large crowd or set it up for a smaller group with last minute chairs available. The intent here is to make the room welcoming, but not appear empty. Since no RSVP is requested, the size of the crowd is variable.
Refreshments—Depending upon the time of day, plan to offer cookies, chips, or appetizers. Provide water, coffee, or iced tea to drink. Set up the refreshment table so guests may help themselves throughout the meeting.
Organizations—There are many organizations fighting trafficking. Remember victims will often view those trying to help as the enemy (they have been manipulated and harmed psychologically so that their bond with the abuser is the strongest one). Seek out organizations in your area with specific goals who offer volunteering or support opportunities. Invite them to attend and bring published materials to share, and establish an area for them to lay out information. Allow some time for networking before and after the official program of speakers. This might include “fair trade awareness,” youth education programs, or other faith ministries established in your area. The number invited should reflect the size of your facility.
We must remember that modern slavery and human trafficking worldwide involves forcing people into slave labor, the criminal organ transplant market, forced adoptions, and sex trafficking of adults and children. These are all sins against the human person. As Orthodox Christians, we understand every human person to be a living icon in the image of God. It is incumbent upon all of us to preserve and protect the dignity of every human being. A well organized, well publicized forum will be the first successful step in every community to raise awareness, take action, and make an impact in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. We invite you to visit our website—occast.org, and to join our coalition Orthodox Christian Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking. (O.C.C.A.S.T.)
In Communion Summer / 2019