Washington, D.C. – The Thai Community Development Center’s Executive Director, Chanchanit Martorell and a Thai trafficking survivor from the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case, Rotchana Sussman, were invited by the White House to attend the Arrival Ceremony for His Holiness Pope Francis Holy See held by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on September 23rd, 2015.
The work of the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) has received support from the federal government under President Obama as well as the Catholic Church over the years. It was the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who was once contracted by the federal government to administer the anti-trafficking services program that the Thai Community Development Center’s (Thai CDC) anti-trafficking services were under for many years. Its Thai Town Marketplace (TTMP) project also received part of its funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The TTMP is located in President Obama’s Promise Zone which serves as his signature anti-poverty program. Trafficking survivor, Sussman, will be one of the vendors in the TTMP.
Both Martorell and Sussman felt very privileged and honored to have been extended such a coveted invitation for such an auspicious occasion.
They were both touched by Pope Francis’ remarks on poverty, immigration, and climate change. These are issues that the Thai Community Development Center, a multi-service social justice organization cares about deeply and has been addressing for over twenty years.
The 78 year old Argentina native and leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics shared his message of compassion and simplicity with the world’s richest and most powerful country.
Pope Francis began his remarks on the South Lawn of the White House where he was greeted by President Obama and the First Lady before dignitaries and fifteen thousand invited guests by stating, “I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”
On immigration, Pope Francis stated, “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.”
On climate change, Pope Francis stated, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the change needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of the world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded, which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities, our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it. We know by faith that the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
Touched by the Pope, Martorell states, “It was truly inspiring to be in the presence of a person of great humility who is not afraid to speak truth to power. He provides the moral leadership and compass that is so lacking in this world. His love for humanity is clearly demonstrated not just by his words but through his deeds as well.”
Also spiritually edified by the Pope, Sussman states, “His Holiness’ message of social responsibility gives me hope that individuals, governments, and corporations will be inspired to do what is right, just, and humane towards their fellow human beings and treat them with respect and dignity. As a trafficking survivor that message of love for the common good could not come at a better time to prevent continued exploitation of the poor and the most vulnerable among us.”
For Martorell and Sussman, they will forever remember this historic ceremony with President Obama and Pope Francis for the rest of their lives and hope to always carry Pope Francis’ message of mercy, hope, and peace with them throughout their work and their personal lives.