- Associated Press - Thursday, January 12, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves Friday for a weeklong trip to Rome, where he’ll meet with an order of nuns working to combat human trafficking and talk personally about the effort with Pope Francis.

The Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy are building a shelter in Louisiana for juvenile victims of human trafficking, a facility that will be called Metanoia House. The governor’s office said Edwards and his wife Donna, devout Catholics, want to assist in the effort to stop human trafficking and encourage such collaborations between churches and states.

“One of the greatest honors of a Catholic and Christian is to meet the Holy Father. I am humbled by this opportunity, and I am looking forward to discussing the very real threat that human trafficking imposes on Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement Thursday evening announcing the trip.

He described the trip as “an incredible opportunity for Louisiana to learn about the partnerships that are available to assist victims of human trafficking.”

Also traveling with the governor and first lady will be Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, Senate President John Alario and Sen. Ronnie Johns, who has sponsored legislation aimed at fighting trafficking.

Edwards‘ office said the Houston to New Orleans corridor is one of the worst human trafficking regions in the country. Louisiana has toughened its efforts to combat trafficking in recent years and has received praise for the effort. The governor’s office said 100 trafficking cases have been investigated by the state police since 2014, many of them involving victims under the age of 18.

Helping to coordinate the trip, according to Edwards‘ office, is Italian Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, chair of the Slaves No More nonprofit organization, who has worked in 30 countries on anti-human trafficking initiatives.

The group also will tour the North American College seminary and visit with Louisiana students studying there while on the trip.

Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said the group will return to Louisiana on Jan. 20. Carbo said the state isn’t paying for Donna Edwards‘ travel costs.

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