Gov. John Bel Edwards smiles as he speaks at a press conference at the State Capitol Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, on the stateÕs plan for spending $1.2 billion in flood-relief funding recently approved by Congress. He's flanked by Restore Louisiana Task Force co-chairs Jimmy Durbin, left, and Jacqui Vines, center. A meeting of the task force scheduled for earlier in the day in Livingston was cancelled because of a winter weather advisory

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Gov. John Bel Edwards will meet with Pope Frances in Italy in the coming week as part of a trip there to promote anti-human trafficking efforts.

Edwards, First Lady Donna Edwards, State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and others, including some state lawmakers, are leaving Friday for Rome and will return the following Friday, according to the Governor's Office. The trip's goal is to recognize and encourage cooperation among churches and states to fight human trafficking, the Governor's Office said.

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

Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said the trip's agenda is still being finalized. He said Edwards is taking no staff from the governor's office and will be staying at a seminary.

Others on the trip include State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Lake Charles Republican who has sponsored several pieces of anti-trafficking legislation.

Italian Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, chairwoman of the "Slaves No More" non-profit organization and coordinator of the Italian Religious Superiors’ Counter-trafficking Office for Women and Children, is assisting with the coordination of the trip.

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The Louisiana delegation is traveling to Italy with Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy nuns who have helped establish Metanoia House, a privately-funded Baton Rouge shelter for girls under age 21 who have been victims of human trafficking. Edwards, a Democrat who took office a year ago, attended the groundbreaking for the house last year and has frequently spoken about its mission.

"Col. Edmonson and the Louisiana State Police have done a tremendous job investigating instances of human trafficking, but our work is nowhere near complete," he said. "This is an incredible opportunity for Louisiana to learn about the partnerships that are available to assist victims of human trafficking, and I know it’ll be a benefit to our state.”

The Houston to New Orleans corridor has been cited as one of the worst for human trafficking in the country. Louisiana State Police have investigated about 100 human trafficking cases just in the past two years. During that period, 39 victims have been rescued, including 27 who were younger than 18 years old at the time.

"Even if one life is saved in our mission to end human trafficking, it’s worth the effort,” Edmonson said in a statement. “We began this process in the previous administration and had tremendous success. Gov. Edwards is equally committed to putting an end to human trafficking, and we want to give these young women the opportunity to truly succeed.”

While on the trip, Gov. and First Lady Edwards and the delegation will tour the North American College where some students from Louisiana are currently studying.

In October, the Edwardses and a delegation that included state officials, business leaders and others traveled to Havana, Cuba, for an economic development mission.

Edwards has made several trips to Washington, D.C., since becoming governor, including five times to lobby for disaster recovery assistance, following catastrophic flooding last year. He is scheduled to return to Washington twice next month for Mardi Gras festivities and the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.