The work of religious in anti-trafficking was applauded at a reception in Rome in honour of Sister Imelda Poole, IBVM, who was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. The British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, said she wanted to express thanks to “all Sisters and Brothers who’ve been so active in combating human slavery – it takes enormous courage and patience and we thank them very much for their efforts.”
Sr Imelda heads up a network of European religious fighting trafficking and exploitation – RENATE - and became its President after more than 11 years working in Albania, where the IBVM founded an NGO called Mary Ward Loreto.
Addressing the reception, Sr Imelda recalled a moving example of the type of victim that she encounters; a young woman who had been trafficked from the age of 12. The victim was covered in hugely painful sores that had become diseased, deriving from a nervous rash. Sr Imelda said this was an example of a trafficked person who had been sold, forced to work, denied a wage and made to live in “absolutely unbelievable” conditions. The victim’s mother had suffered a complete mental breakdown as a result of her daughter’s plight and remains in an institution.
Sr Imelda also reflected on the founding of RENATE and said it was “quite extraordinary” that the network was now present in 30 European countries - having not even been thought of less than a decade ago.
IBVM Provincial Leader in England, Sr Bernadette Boland, gave a speech of thanks to the Ambassador, for a “wonderful night” and said Sr Imelda took the MBE for all the religious working together in anti-trafficking.
Another British Sister present was Lynda Dearlove, RSM, who was also awarded the MBE – back in 2011, for services to vulnerable women. Sr Lynda is the founder and CEO of women@thewell (a drop-in centre for vulnerable women in London), Vice-Chair of the trustee board of CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) and also a trustee for ARISE Foundation. She welcomed the affirmation that the government is fully behind efforts to eradicate trafficking: “I think it’s important to note the recognition from the current Ambassador to the Holy See, of the important work of women religious in both prevention, rescue and shelter of victims of modern slavery. In particular, the recognition that we provide a response that the state could not provide. I also welcome her identification that in the recognition of urgency to combat the scourge of modern slavery the Holy See and the UK government are at one.”
Other distinguished guests included Monsignor Antoine Camilleri of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Executive Secretary of the UISG, Sr Pat Murray IBVM, Dominican Sr Helen Alford OP, Philanthropist Christian Brenninkmeijer, who’d travelled from Vienna for the reception and Luke de Pulford of Arise Foundation.
Sr Imelda concluded by thanking Pope Francis for being such a huge inspiration and source of strength, in his firm condemnation of human trafficking and chose his words to sum up her mission: “We have to engage in this conflict; we have to engage with this whole scourge in our world today.”