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Publisher's Pick: Beautiful performance sheds light on ugly problem

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Sister Janel and I arrived extra-early for a benefit concert last Friday evening at Assisi Heights.

Forty-five minutes early for a 7:30 performance wasn't early enough. We found ourselves in a line already halfway down the long hall leading from the reception area to the magnificent Lourdes Chapel.

I commented to Sister Janel about a peculiar Rochester etiquette observed over nearly six years since I came to town. Folks hereabouts tend to RSVP at the last minute, but they arrive ultra-early to public receptions and events.

Sister Janel and I chatted amiably, patiently waiting for the doors to open. Those around us thought they might open at 7. They did not. Standing there on the handsome-but-hard tile floor, Sister Janel seemed to be feeling all her 80 years. Slight of stature, she tentatively peered around those much taller, wondering if she just might risk a move forward.

I encouraged her. "Go ahead. March right on up to the head of line. After all, who would challenge a nun?"

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Softly, she demurred. To budge into the line ahead might possibly be counter to the Franciscan tradition of humility.

"Here's an idea," I said. "Let's find you a clipboard to carry. Adopt an air of authority and elbow your way to the head of the line. After all, no one questions a person with a clipboard. And a nun with a clipboard is the ultimate power play. "

Moments later, the doors opened, and we moved together until we parted. Little did we know the exceptional evening that lay before us.

Horrified but uplifted

"Breaking the Chains of Modern Day Slavery" was a benefit to promote awareness of the issue of human trafficking. Proceeds from the concert support the human trafficking ministries of the Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester.

Ellen Huston is the director of the Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy. Last month, when I attended the riveting contemporary dance performance of "Teenage Wasteland," Ellen encouraged me to save last Friday's date for "Breaking the Chains."

Minnesota Youth Ballet Academy partnered with two local young women's choirs, Bella Voce and Bella Fiore. The collaboration of the three was synergism beyond compare.

In a program richly interspersed with prayer, song, dance and readings, I felt at once horror-stricken yet strongly inspired and uplifted by the message. Leaving the performance and driving home, I could not determine if it was the soaring vocals, the powerful dance interpretations or the passionately delivered readings that resonated most with me.

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In the end, as I lay abed uncommonly sleepless, I realized it was the sum of the parts that became greater than any one of the performance elements that resonated the message within me.

A local problem?

Human trafficking is a global atrocity that has awakened the Franciscan Sisters and called them to action. Here's what they have taught me thus far:

Through force, coercion and fraud, women and children are sold into sex slavery, while other persons are trafficked for labor. Thousands have become victims. This underground industry generates billions of dollars in profits each year because persons as slaves are reusable and resalable.

Perhaps you will ask, as did my barber, "In Rochester? Really?Really? Is that a problem here?"

The answer is, of course, yes. According to local law-enforcement officials, Rochester is a hub city for many visitors, as are the Twin Cities and the port city of Duluth. Where there are visitors who have money, there is forced labor in the form of prostitution and pornography.

Human trafficking also is endemic among farm, sweatshop and domestic workers. The FBI ranks Minnesota 13th in the nation in this modern-day form of slavery.

Learn, then act

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As only they could be, the Sisters of St. Francis are a determined lot. They work diligently with law enforcement, medical professionals, educators, clergy and local residents by forming partnerships to help identify victims of forced labor, prosecute traffickers and educate our communities.

We as a community are challenged to become educated and take action to address the issue of human trafficking.

•Inform yourself through news articles and other publications on the subject and attend forums. The next "Breaking the Chains" forum is 9 a.m. to noon May 18 at Assisi Heights. For more information and to register, go to www.rochesterfranciscan.org.

•Support local organizations fighting modern slavery such as Breaking Free, Mission 21 and Civil Society as well as the Franciscan Sisters.

•Host or sponsor a Human Trafficking Awareness presentation at your church, civic organization or community gathering. Contact Sister Nancy Casey at 507-282-7441.

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