Mercy Mondays

Liberated Mercy: Can You See Them?

By Lori Felix | Monday, April 11, 2016

While preparing for the Jubilee Year of Mercy I was reflecting on the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, ransom the captive (also called visit the imprisoned) and bury the dead. Most of the corporal works seem pretty straight forward – you can feed the hungry by volunteering at the soup kitchen or you can clothe the naked by donating unused clothes to a shelter. But what does ransom the captives look like? 

In the literal sense, it means to release the imprisoned. But what does that really mean and how do we act on it? I had to think more deeply about what this Scripture verse is calling us to.

At first, what came to my mind were all the people captured into slavery during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. People were ripped away from their homes against their will and forced to travel on an overcrowded, diseased ship to an unfamiliar land. Those who survived the lengthy voyage would then be sold to a life in which they were treated like property by their owners. Flash forward to several hundred years later, we are still recovering from the repercussions of that terrible injustice.

But slavery isn’t a thing of the past. Slavery is still very much present today.  It might not look like it did in the history books where people were sold and bought at live auctions, but people are still imprisoned, controlled and abused –and most of it occurs almost invisibly. According to the International Labor Organization, there are more people enslaved today then there were during the peak of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  Approximately 21 million people are victims of slavery - that's about the population of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin combined.

Slavery now looks like labor or debt bondage, domestic servitude, sex trafficking, child soldiers and child marriages - to name a few. Slavery is also not something that is solely going on in developing countries, either. It is happening in our own neighborhoods.  The Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues states that Chicago is a national center for trafficking and that there are about 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls sex trafficked a year.  These women have become invisible in our own society.

Thus, ransom the captives means going beyond the bars of a prison and it demands us to respect the life and dignity of the human person – those seen or unseen.  It calls us to reach out to people that find themselves restrained by every kind of oppression. Furthermore, it asks us to find out why these people are oppressed and to get involved in addressing the social injustices that affect them.  It’s time to open our eyes.

Mercy Challenge

Reflect on the scripture, “The Spirt of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” Luke 4:18. Name one instance in your life where you have experienced or witnessed this type of liberation.

Get informed on human trafficking by signing up for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Anti-Trafficking program email list by contacting and participate in their programs: Become a Shepherd, Connecting Overseas Maritime Partners to Abolish Slavery at Sea (COMPASS), and The Amistad Movement.

Lori Felix is Program Assistant for the Office of Peace and Justice.