Let us imagine that her name is Irene – her eyes are beautiful, as is her heart, shrunken a bit because of her life adventures, that is, misfortunes. Her skin is dark and her soul turned clear again. Yet, she met men and women whose soul was black. Today, those eyes shine innocently again, thanks to the love that saved her on the way of the prayer’s light. She is a 26-year-old woman from Nigeria, the State of Lagos. Her parents split and her mother was left alone with four children. She is the eldest. “I have a sister and two brothers”, she tells In Terris. She studied computer science and taught it to children. She lived in a simple but dignified way, until the school where she was working became unable to pay it. A difficult situation that became the beginning of a drama.
A “friend of a friend” offered to help her to take her to Europe to work in a hotel in Marseille. She arrived with an airliner, a touristic flight, carrying her poor and precious dreams in an essential baggage: a job, a house, maybe find love and start a family. Once she landed, however, she ended up in a nightmare straight away. Her “friend” turned out to be the enemy, an emissary of evil. “He asked 40 thousand euros to pay him back the travel expenses. I did not have them. So they took away my documents and handed me over to the Madame. I was supposed to pay with work. “Other women are forced to pay even more, up to 80 thousand or 100 thousand euros. The “work” they are forced into is prostitution. The future that opens up is the horror of violence against femininity, which is sold and abused, and terror because of the other dangers one is exposed to by sex on payment with strangers. “Once, a man with a knife had hurt me,” she says. Her memories are concise, to withhold emotion, as her heart is tight in the grip of the suffering she experienced. With few words she mentions “another one, a gunman”.
In a Report of the UN Commission of Human Rights in 2000, what happened to Irene is defined “women trafficking.” The “recruitment” occurs in different ways, through purchase, kidnapping, deception, or with the help of a halter debt to force them into a condition of slavery. Often, the victims fall into the network of organized criminals attracted, like Irene, by false promises of a regular work. There are millions of them on the Old Continent, but no one knows their precise number, not even the exploiters themselves. This business with a turnover billionaire. Nigerians, together with Albanian and Romanian women, are the largest number in Europe. According to the International Organisation for Migration Data (IOM), 70 percent of these sex slaves come from Lagos.
“Madame checked on me and I had to work every night, earning at least 100 euros, otherwise I got punished,” Irene says. She prayed Jesus and the Virgin Mary every night to help her, yet she agreed to go back on the road every night out of fear. “They threatened me saying that they would hurt my mother and my sister in Nigeria,” she recalls. One evening, however, she takes courage and flees to Paris by train together with another young unfortunate woman. Here, she continues her life on the side of the road for three more months”,” to be able to eat and pay for a place where to sleep. So, again by train, she arrived to Verona three years ago. The turning point, salvation, liberation happen when she moves further to the south, where Irene moved to continue “life” to which she began to feel doomed by that time.
“I was sick, I felt humiliated in my femininity. I thought my life was over. I asked for Lord’s forgiveness every night for my sins, although I had not chosen to live that way. I prayed for the conversion of my pimps,” Irene says. Once, on Saturday night, near an area assigned to her by the exploiters, just a few meters away from that profane area, she saw a group in prayer, reciting the rosary next to the statue of the Virgin. “I came closer and talked to a woman in the group, and I prayed with them,” Irene says. “I finally found the courage to ask for help. It was the beginning of a new life, the healing of my soul.” Thus, Irene joined the Recovery Program of the Pope John XXIII Community, founded by Father Oreste Benzi whose key points are sharing with the last ones, fraternity, and “giving a family to those who do not have one” (along with prayer, obedience, poor life).
Every night, community volunteers, in 14 Italian regions and 30 provinces, go out in the streets to free crucified women from the slavery of prostitution, help them rise to a new life of dignity. Two thirds of the victims of trafficking who are forced into prostitution are women. More than 7 thousand were recovered, 200 are currently guests in the homes of the Community Family. There are approximately 5 million victims of trafficking worldwide. In Italy alone, there are about 120 thousand, nearly 40 percent of whom are minors. More than half of them are under 30. More than 60 percent of them prostitute themselves in the street, with an annual turnover of about 10 billion euros.
“For organized crime, these women forced into prostitution are a quick and easy way to get rich, to invest in weapons and drugs,” explains Father Aldo Buonaiuto, who has been Father Benzi’s assistant and disciple for over ten years. And all those things happen in our cities, neighborhoods, near our homes, perhaps in our palaces, where the media attention and political lights – as well as those of our conscience – are turned off. It is a slap in the face of those who believe they live in a civilized society.
Irene’s story is terrible, but there are also stories of absolute evil, such as Mary’s life. “I was a slave of the night,” she says. “Nobody asked my name, where I came from, nor why I was crying,” she says. She was 13 when she arrived to Italy from Bulgaria, convinced by a young man, thinking she might have worked as a saleswoman in a supermarket. Whereas what expected her was a fate of slavery, locked up in a cellar all the time. She was beaten up so as to make her understand that “there was no way out of that room” and that if she did not do what her kidnapers wanted, they would have killed her and would have harmed her family. “I closed my eyes and thought about my mother. I prayed God to make me die. “At the age of 15, they made her have a brutal abortion. Then they placed her on the side of the road. One night, Father Aldo came there. “Daughter, come away with me. This is the night in which God has heard your prayers,” he says. But she does not trust him at the very beginning. She chases him away, but asks him: “Please, come back”. And Father Aldo does so the night after. Maria opened the car, got in and hid under the seats. “Let’s go”, she implores. Away, towards freedom, towards life.
“In the Community I understood what it’s like to have people who love you, for free, without asking anything,” Maria says. She is visibly moved. The angels of Jesus’ love and goodness constantly free souls from the clutches of darkness and night.
The Community Pope John XXIII, in collaboration with the Vicariate of Rome, is organizing the Via Crucis with seven steps, of solidarity and prayer for young women victims of trafficking, forced prostitution and violence, next Friday 26 February, in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia, at 7.30 p.m.
Via Crucis will be led by the president of the Association founded by Father Oreste, John Paul Ramonda, the Vocations Director of the Office of the Diocese of Rome Father Fabio Rosini, the president of the Movement of Spiritual Renewal Salvatore Martinez, president of the Italian Catholic Action Matteo Truffelli, Sister Eugenia Bonetti from the national Office of the Major Superiors of Italy (Usmi), Juliet Astiaso, the Neocatechumenal Way, Father Maurizio Botta. The event will be attended also by the Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar Bishop General of the Holy Father. They will offer the testimonies of some girls who have experienced the cross of exploitation of slavery.