Pope Francis has visited 20 former prostitutes at a safe house in Rome where they had managed to find refuge from their pimps. The 79-year-old pontiff spent over an hour talking to the women, most of whom had been trafficked from Africa and eastern Europe.
The women are being provided with protection and shelter at a flat in Rome that is occupied by a Catholic charity called the Pope John XXIII Community.
Among the former prostitutes were seven Nigerians, six Romanians, and four Albanians, as well as women from Italy, Tunisia, and Ukraine, all of whom are about 30 years old.
© Reuters ‘Terrible & unnatural’: Pope Francis slams gender choice being taught to kids
The Pope listened to them as they shared their stories, the Vatican said in a statement.
Traffickers had promised to give the women jobs before taking them to Italy or other European countries – but then forced them into prostitution.
The women had “suffered serious physical abuse,” the Vatican noted in a statement.
The pontiff encouraged the women “to be strong” as their lives begin anew.
Pope Francis has spoken out against human trafficking many times, repeatedly branding it a “crime against humanity.”
The visit was arranged as part of the pontiff’s “Fridays of Mercy,” in which he performs an act of mercy every month on a Friday.
In July, Pope Francis visited sick children in Krakow, Poland, following prayers for victims of the Holocaust at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
A month earlier, he went to see elderly priests, and in May he visited mentally ill patients.
The pontiff spent time with asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos in April and, a few days ago, he invited 21 Syrian refugees to lunch, many of whom he had reportedly met during that trip.