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Nuns fight social issue

Caitlin Housley | Thursday, February 2, 2012

When it was announced that the Super Bowl would take place in Indianapolis this year, a group of nuns at Saint Mary’s got excited — not because of the football game, but because of the opportunity it presented.

Sr. Ann Oestreich and nuns from 11 congregations across Indiana and Michigan saw the close location of the Super Bowl as an opportunity to raise awareness about human trafficking.

“Usually when there’s a major sporting event in a city, trafficking incidents go up,” Oesteich said. “So, at sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup, there’s always a lot of organizing to keep the incidents of trafficking down.”

Oestreich, co-chair of the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan (CCRIM), said the group works to improve the social and sustainability issues in companies within which they invest. Their current focus is on hotels.

“A lot of the times, traffickers can come into hotels and operate out of there without being noticed,” Oestreich said.

Oestreich said the coalition teamed up with enforcement officials, the attorney general, people who own safe houses and people doing work with immigrants and refugees in order to keep incidents of human trafficking during the Super Bowl to a minimum.

“We wanted to work with hotels to educate their staffs so they could recognize the signs of trafficking and take safe and responsible action when they thought that it might be occurring within their hotel,” she said.

The group contacted 200 hotels within a 50-mile radius of Lucas Oil Stadium, she said.

Of the 200 hotels contacted by the group, 45 said they had previously held training with their staff, seven asked the coalition for help to set up training for the Super Bowl and 99 asked for the local contact list and information about an industry-wide code of conduct against trafficking.

“We’re really very grateful to the hotel managers who talked with us, worked with us, took our materials and are on the lookout for traffickers, especially this weekend in Indianapolis,” she said.

However, the initiative runs deeper than making phone calls and delivering packets, Oestreich said.

“The other part of this initiative … that is just as important as contacting the hotels, is the prayer part of it,” she said.

On Jan. 11 — National Human Trafficking Awareness Day — the sisters held a prayer service at Saint Mary’s. The Sisters of the Holy Cross also sent information about this initiative to their fellow sisters around the world, so they could pray in solidarity.

Oestreich said the coalition also published a prayer card with an image of Saint Josephine Bakhita on its front. Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking herself.

“The sisters from these 11 congregations and a lot of others who joined with us from other places in the states and actually from around the world have been saying the prayer to end human trafficking every day from Jan. 12, and we’ll say it right up to Super Bowl Sunday,” she said.

Despite highlighting a more serious side of the Super Bowl, Oestreich said she wants all Super Bowl fans to have a fun time on Sunday.

“We’d really like for [the Super Bowl] to be a great event for Indianapolis and for the people who go, and we’d like them to have a real celebration without the exploitation that’s part of trafficking,” she said.