Vatican City, 2 December 2014 (VIS) – For the first time in history, the leaders of the world’s major religions gathered together in the Vatican this morning with the aim of eliminating modern slavery. Today, International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, a ceremony was held in the seat of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV for the signing of the Declaration of Religious Leaders against Slavery. This solemn act follows the agreement signed of 17 March in the Vatican, established by the Global Freedom Network to eradicate, by 2020, modern forms of slavery and human trafficking. The Declaration was signed by Pope Francis, along with eminent Orthodox, Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu representatives. The following is the full text of Pope Francis’ address, which he began by thanking all religious leaders for their commitment to assisting survivors of human trafficking, and all those present for their active participation in this act of fraternity, “especially for our brothers and sisters who suffer most”. “Inspired by our confessions of faith, we are gathered here today for an historical initiative and to take concrete action: to declare that we will work together to eradicate the terrible scourge of modern slavery in all its forms. The physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation of men, women and children that is currently inflicted on tens of millions of people constitutes a form of dehumanisation and humiliation. “Every human being, man women, boy and girl, is made in God’s image. God is the love and freedom that is given in interpersonal relationships, and every human being is a free person destined to live for the good of others in equality and fraternity. Every person, and all people, are equal and must be accorded the same freedom and the same dignity. Any discriminatory relationship that does not respect the fundamental conviction that others are equal is a crime, and frequently an aberrant crime. “Therefore, we declare on each and every one of our creeds that modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, and organ trafficking, is a crime against humanity. Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. On behalf of all of them, our communities of faith are called to reject, without exception, any systematic deprivation of individual freedom for the purposes of personal or commercial exploitation; in their name, we make this declaration. “In spite of the great efforts of many, modern slavery continues to be an atrocious scourge present on a large scale throughout the world, also as tourism; this crime is frequently concealed in apparently accepted customs but the reality is that it claims victims in prostitution, human trafficking, forced labour, slave labour, mutilation, the sale of organs, drug abuse, and child labour. It is hidden behind closed doors, in certain homes, in the streets, in cars, in factories, in fields, in fishing boats and in many other places. And it takes place in both cities and villages, in the slums of the richest and poorest nations in the world. And the worst thing is that the situation is unfortunately worsening every day. “Let us call to action all persons of faith and their leaders, Governments, businesses, all men and women of good will, to lend their unwavering support and to join the movement against modern slavery, in all its forms. “Supported by the ideals of our confessions of faith and our shared human values, we all can and must raise the standard of spiritual values, our joint efforts, our liberatory vision, to eradicate slavery from our planet. I pray that the Lord will grant us the grace to become a neighbour to all persons, without exception, and to provide active support whenever we encounter on our way an elderly person abandoned by all; an unjustly enslaved and mistreated worker; a refugee caught in the snares of crime; a young person walking the streets of the world, a victim of the sex trade; a man or a woman tricked into prostitution by people with no fear of God; a child mutilated for his or her organs, all of whom call out to our consciences, echoing the voice of the Lord: I assure you that whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. “Dear friends, thank you for this meeting, and thank you for this joint effort that involves all of us. We are all a reflection of the image of God, and we are convinced that we cannot accept that the image of the living God be subject to the most aberrant trafficking”….