LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The suffering of children sold for their organs and young African girls prostituted on Rome's streets will dominate Pope Francis' Good Friday service, led by an Italian nun who has devoted her life to helping sex trafficking victims.
Sister Eugenia Bonetti has won multiple awards for her work with trafficked women and children in Italy, Nigeria and Benin since the 1990s, providing legal services, repatriation and shelter to some of an estimated 40 million trapped in slavery.
"Let us think of all those children ... bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, used and abused on our streets by many, including Christians, who have lost the sense of their own and others' sacredness," she will tell the crowds.
"Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children."
The Church has set its sights on human trafficking in recent years, with Francis branding forcing women into prostitution a "crime against humanity" and urging Catholics to "open their eyes" to victims.
As he prepares to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics in the countdown to Easter Sunday, the pope chose Bonetti to write meditations for the 14 "stations of the cross" which commemorate the last hours of Jesus's life.
The prayers will call on Catholics to alleviate the suffering of the poor, homeless, jobless, undocumented migrants and those stuck in transit camps, on boats denied entry to safe ports or shipwrecked in the Mediterranean.
Bonetti will describe how she walked the streets of Rome looking for a young woman recently arrived in Italy, where many African migrants wash up, hoping for a fresh start only to be snared in prostitution.
"In the darkness, I caught sight of her curled up and half asleep at the edge of the street. When she heard me calling, she awoke and said she couldn't go on," Bonetti will say.
"'I can't take it any more', she kept repeating. I thought of her mother. If she knew what had happened to her daughter, she would burst into tears."
(Reporting by Sam Alberti; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)