Freedom Day commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

On June 19, the United States celebrates a major civic event, known in slang as a "civic holiday". June nineteenth. On this day in 1865, Unionist General Gordon Granger, in Galveston, Texas, declared that all slaves were free.

Omnes-June 19, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

A woman celebrates Juneteenth in New York in 2021. © CNS/Eduardo Muñoz, Reuters

States introduced a federal holiday in 2021 under Joe Biden, who called it "one of the greatest honors as president." The event is called "Freedom Day" or "Liberation Day." The anniversary, celebrated especially in the African-American community, was felt especially keenly in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

Slavery is part of human history and has very ancient roots. One of the first breaks with this tradition occurred in the person of Jesus and the subsequent spread of his teachings. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes: "For you are all children of God. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:26-28). 

It took several centuries of Christian life to spread opposition to this practice. From the earliest times it seemed to be in profound antithesis to the message of love, freedom and equality of Christianity

In the Middle Ages

Medieval Europe was the only civilization that showed itself capable of first mitigating and then abolishing the buying and selling of human beings, by virtue of its Christian theological and anthropological values. The Council of London of 1102 represents the first explicit condemnation of slavery en bloc: "let no one enter into the nefarious trade, which was in use here in Anglia, whereby men were sold as if they were brute animals." 

At the end of the 12th century, the Frenchman Jean de Matha founded the Order of the Most Holy Trinity. This project of religious life united the cult of the Trinity with the work of liberation from slavery, in particular the rescue of Christians who had fallen prisoner to the Moors. The order strove for the redemption of the captives because he knew that freedom was offered to them if they renounced their faith. Recently, the Order of the Most Holy Trinity has performed the service of liberation in various ways: by attending to new forms of slavery (prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.) or by participating in the liberation of the destitute from poverty. 

Modern Era

At the time of the discovery of the American continent, the thinking of the various popes had matured into a convinced opposition to the practice of slavery, which became widespread with the populations of Indians, blacks, etc. On the part of the Church, from the 15th to the 19th centuries, papal bulls and excommunications against slave traders were commonplace.  

In 1492, the year of the discovery of America, Pope Pius II reminded a bishop of Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea Bissau) that the enslavement of blacks was "magnum scelus", a great crime. Subsequently, popes used excommunication to show their rejection of this practice. For example, Pope Urban VIII in 1639 and Pope Benedict XIV in 1741. 

Contemporary Age

At the time the Congress of Vienna in 1815 decided how to divide up the African continent, Pope Pius VII called for a ban on the slave trade. And in 1839 Pope Gregory XVI summarized the condemnatory pronouncements of his predecessors in a bull in which he "admonishes and entreats" Christians to cease being guilty of the "so great an infamy" of slavery, "that inhuman trade by which Negroes...are bought, sold and sometimes forced to perform very hard labor." 

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the Church's opposition became increasingly severe, to the point that the 1917 Code of Canon Law punished slavery by including it among the crimes "against life, liberty, property, good reputation and morals." Laymen who had been legitimately condemned for murder, "kidnapping of children of both sexes, selling men as slaves" and other evil acts, "should be automatically excluded from any ecclesiastical action and from any salary, if they had it in the Church, with the obligation to repair the damage". 

The Second Vatican Council mentions slavery in a long list of "shameful" practices that offend human dignity. Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) condemns slavery in the section of the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

Current projects

In recent years, an initiative originating in women's religious life has taken root under the name of Talitha Kum. The project has awakened the deep desire for dignity and life that has been latent and wounded by so many forms of exploitation. Human trafficking is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon, wounding tens of millions of people and the whole of human society. The activities of Talitha Kum are addressed to all persons deprived of their dignity and freedom. And this regardless of their lifestyle, race, religion, economic situation or sexual orientation. 

Evidently, in the 21st century, the phenomenon of slavery has not yet been overcome, and its forms of expression have evolved over time. Throughout the history of the Church we find abundant theological arguments from patristic times to condemn this practice. For example, it is stressed that God is the creator of all men, who enjoy equal capacity and dignity; the dominion of some men over others is a consequence of man's sin; the sacrifice of Christ has freed all men equally from the slavery of evil; all men, even non-believers, are capable of having faith in Christ; slavery is an obstacle to conversion to God because of the negative witness offered by Christians.

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising