Local Women Step Out in Faith To Combat Human Trafficking

Posted inCourageously Living the Gospel

Mary Palamar has been a champion for anti-human trafficking efforts for over 15 years. Her passion for spreading awareness about the topic, coupled with her courageous faith, drove her to get involved with the Peace and Justice Committee at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in New Port Richey. The ministry developed because of a group of women’s desire to bring about tangible change in their community.

Mary and a few friends first began meeting at a prayer group called Gathering of Women.

“We all felt a bond to assess the needs of our community. Deficits in social justice in our area became a topic of conversation at each of our prayer meetings, so we decided to formally gather just for that purpose,” member Linda Aston notes.

With Father Sebastian Earthedath’s blessing, the women established the Peace and Justice Committee at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, which had previously been inactive.  Their first task was to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking.

On February 6, 2020 Our Lady Queen of Peace partnered with the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking to put on a free Human Trafficking Seminar. Despite severe thunderstorms the night of the event, over 200 people of all ages from both faith and community-based organizations gathered to listen to a diverse panel of experts.

“You could feel the enthusiasm in the room,” Mary stated, as faith leaders, law enforcement officers, and victim advocates on the panel answered questions from the audience. Some audience members even stayed after the event ended to continue to educate themselves on the topic.

Bishop Gregory Parkes wrote a letter commending Our Lady Queen of Peace for their efforts to address the human trafficking issue through this seminar. “As Catholics, we are called to preserve the sacredness of human life and endeavor to put an end to this form of modern-day slavery. Collaborating with the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking is an excellent way to foster strong partnerships with local organizations, as well as promote public awareness,” he said.

“People are surprised that it’s everywhere. My goodness, it’s right in my town,” said Betsy Wunderlich, a member of the committee, about the lack of community awareness regarding human trafficking. “As Catholic women, we have a tremendous passion for trying to right the wrongs. We are a group of women who believe that if we can do a little, that’s something,” she added.

Every member of the committee pointed to their faith as a driving force behind their desire to Courageously Live the Gospel and shed a light on the injustices of human trafficking. Committee member Carol Keyes shared, “I try to see the face of Jesus in the faces of everyone.” This propels the women to step out courageously in faith and take action to uphold the dignity of all lives.

The members of the Peace and Justice Committee Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in New Port Richey are Mary Palamar, Ann Norton, Rosanne Smithwick, Carol Keyes, Mary Kate Naglitsch, Jane Robinson, Linda Aston, Vera Koehnke and Betsy Wunderlich.

If you, or someone you know, is affected by human trafficking, please call the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888. If you would like more information on this issue, visit the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking at sistersagainsttrafficking.org.

Additional Information:

Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish was the first parish in the Diocese of St. Petersburg to commit to a “Human Trafficking Free Zone.” On January 25, Father Sebastian signed the declaration saying ” God says to us again that we are the keepers of our sisters and brothers and not their killers.”

Article written by Megan MacElroy