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Catholic Sentinel | Portland, OR Saturday, December 3, 2016

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10/8/2012 11:26:00 AM
Icon meant as help for those who work on trafficking
Photo courtesy of Brian Willis
Fr. Peter Byrne and Brian Willis at the blessing of icon of St. Peter Claver. The icon was written by Br. Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey.
Photo courtesy of Brian Willis
Fr. Peter Byrne and Brian Willis at the blessing of icon of St. Peter Claver. The icon was written by Br. Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey.

Human trafficking activist and outreach worker Brian Willis knows he needs all the help he can get in his ministry. The member of St. Mary Cathedral Parish has proposed St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, as patron saint for victims and survivors of human trafficking and slavery. His suggestion is pending at the Vatican.

And for those who try to help the exploited population, he now is promoting the patronage of St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit who served slaves who'd docked in Colombia in large ships.  

"I think about St. Peter Claver as I do my work," says Willis, an attorney who works both overseas and locally to help trafficked and enslaved women and their children. He is particularly interested in improving their health.

St. Peter Claver would gather donations of food and row out to meet slave ships and give care. Now, Willis and his colleagues receive donations from St. Honoré Bakery and bring them on Friday nights to women who've been forced into prostitution. His van is full of hygiene products, diapers, infant formula, books and toys children of the women he meets on Portland's streets.

In many ways, he faces the same struggles Claver faced.

"We still have to convince people that slavery exists and that we, as Catholics, must help the victims and survivors in our own community," Willis says.  

Benedictine Brother Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey has written icons of both St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Peter Claver.

Willis does his outreach in partnership with Rahab's Sisters, which has been based on Portland's Southeast 82nd Avenue for 10 years.



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