(Photo: REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool)
Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby signed an agreement Monday to support an anti-slavery, anti-human trafficking initiative. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion backed the initiative known as the Global Freedom Network.
"Many are already engaged in the struggle and we join them with much to learn as well as much to contribute. All are called to join common cause to end this crime and suffering," said Welby. "We are struggling against evil in secret places and in deeply entrenched networks of malice and cruelty. No one of us is strong enough, but together we are ready for the challenge God is placing before us today, and we know that he will strengthen us so that all people may live in freedom and dignity."
In a statement released honoring the occasion, Welby said that the joint endeavor was part of the efforts to have Anglicans and Catholics united.
"Anglicans and Roman Catholics have, since 1966, been in serious and prayerful dialogue with each other, to seek the unity that Christ wills for his church in the world," said Welby. "…this imperative has inspired and sustained the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, and the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, for many years as an act of faith."
Welby also said that the interfaith Global Freedom Network involved a "faith base" go help end human trafficking globally.
Signed at Vatican City, the Global Freedom Network had the signed approval of the Pope, the Archbishop and also a Sunni Muslim representative from the prominent al-Azhar University in Cairo, reported Associated Press.
"The presence of al-Azhar at the Vatican for the launch was particularly significant given that relations between the Holy See and al-Azhar collapsed during Pope Benedict XVI's papacy," wrote Nicole Winfield of AP.
The initiative has multiple goals, including getting dozens of major corporations to 'slavery-proof' their labor force and to convince over 150 governments to implement anti-slavery programs.
Andrew Forrest, a billionaire mining magnate from Australia who ranks 270 on Forbes' world richest people list, developed the initiative.
"We have absolute economic proof that once you take slavery out of a community, that community grows and grows and grows," said Forrest to the AP.
A recent estimate from the International Labor Organization states that approximately 20.9 million people are currently enslaved.