Catholic and US State Department representatives held a conference not long ago to discuss ways to combat human trafficking, in which impoverished people are tricked, coerced or forced across international borders. A majority of the victims wind up working as prostitutes. At the conference, religious sisters spoke of ministering to such prostitutes, whose lives are deeply scarred and shattered, and who fear trying to escape because they don’t speak the language, they don’t know where to turn, they’re far from home, and they’re terrified of being harmed by their pimps.
I mention this today, the feast of St. Nicholas, because of one story associated with this fourth century bishop, who was much loved for his generosity with the poor. It is said that he secretly left gifts of gold in the home of an elderly poor man in order to provide dowries for his three young daughters, without which they could not be married. He did this, the story goes, because the girls would likely be forced into prostitution if they remained unwed.
Like St. Nicholas, our bishops today seek ways to fight prostitution and the human trafficking associated with it. But we have a part to play as well: By being aware that the problem exists in our communities; by advocating with our government leaders to address the problem; by praying that it might be stopped; by praying for its victims; by supporting agencies which help its victims; and by working to restrict pornography and media indecency, which fuel the demand for prostitutes, and therefore for human trafficking.
We often view St. Nicholas today though the soft-focus lens of Santa Claus, the icon of a season of joy and light. But we can honor him in another way too, by continuing his fight against the darkness.