The Spanish Bishops’ Conference has named its first laywoman subcommission secretary, with one bishop hailing the appointment as “a good thing for the whole Church”.

– Bishop subcommission president hails her “deep sensitivity and empathy”

The laywoman in question is María Francisca Sánchez Vara, who up until this July 8 was the head of the Department of Human Trafficking in the Spanish Bishops’ Subcommission on Migrations and Human Mobility.

Since this Wednesday Sánchez Vara is now the Director of the Secretariat of that same Subcommission, making her the first laywoman to hold such a high rank, equivalent to a Subcommission ‘second-in-charge’, in the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

The President of the Episcopal Conference’s Subcommission on Migrations is the Bishop of Vitoria, Juan Carlos Elizalde.

Elizalde said of his election of Sánchez Vara as his right-hand woman in the Subcommission: “I decided to choose her to accompany me in this area because of our close collaboration in the past on issues of the trafficking of women, for her deep sensitivity and empathy about migrants and refugees and her ability to coordinate and carry out projects”.

“It is a good thing for the whole Church”, Elizalde added.

– “The vast majority of women and minors victims of trafficking are immigrants”

Sánchez Vara replaces as head of the Migrations secretariat the Jesuit José Luis Pinilla, who has served in that capacity for the past twelve years.

Pinilla didn’t spare words of praise for his successor, applauding as he did “her great capacity, experience and emphasis on more and better service” to migrants, refugees, victims of human trafficking and workers in the road and maritime transport sectors.

The new Episcopal Conference Migrations Subcommission secretary is a 49-year-old Madrilenian with extensive experience in accompanying vulnerable people of all ages and conditions.

Her work in the Episcopal Conference to date has been focussed principally on tackling the problem of the trafficking of minors and women for the purposes of sexual exploitation in Spain and throughout Europe.

As Director of the Spanish Bishops’ Department of Human Trafficking, Sánchez Vara developed protocols for emotional accompaniment of victims of trafficking and pioneered job training programs to get the survivors out of prostitution networks and to restore their human dignity in the face of their constant instrumentalisation as sex objects.

“With human trafficking I came closer to the world of immigration because the vast majority of women and minors who are exploited are immigrants”, Sánchez Vara denounced in remarks soon after being appointed to her new position.

The new Secretary said she was taking on her new role with a “a great desire to serve immigrants and the neediest”.

She added she was “highly motivated” to begin work and said sh was “strongly commitment to this reality” of migrants, refugees and human trafficking victims “that is now very difficult and urgent, all the more so with the consequences caused by the coronavirus and confinement”.

Along with Sánchez Vara, two other women were appointed by the Spanish Bishops July 8 to posts as secretaries of Episcopal Conference Commissions. Raquel Pérez Sanjuán, a member of the Theresian Institution, was named secretary of the Episcopal Conference Commission for Education and Culture, and María José Tuñón Calvo, a Handmaid of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, will be the new secretary of the Bishops’ Commission for Consecrated Life.

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