Gov John Bel Edwards with Pope.jpg

Pope Francis blesses the Louisiana project to support trafficking victims. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and his delegation, including Father Jeff Bayhi, pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican Jan. 18. The delegation was there to discuss human trafficking prevention. The Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, who are establishing a safe house for girls in the area, are also part of the delegation. (Photo via L'Osservatore Romano, reprinted with permission) 

Gov. John Bel Edwards, First Lady Donna Edwards and others from Louisiana in Italy on an anti-human trafficking mission met Pope Francis on Wednesday.

The Pope blessed a marker that will go on a home for human trafficking victims in Louisiana.

Edwards, a Democrat who is Catholic, traveled to Italy on Friday 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 said he was "extremely humbled" by the opportunity to meet the Pope and receive his blessing for the initiative.

“Louisiana is a hotbed of human trafficking in the world, including one of the worst corridors in the country from Houston to Baton Rouge," Edwards said in an emailed statement Thursday. "Our partnerships with the church are essential if Louisiana is going to continue to lead the nation in fighting this epidemic, and it was a truly humbling experience for Donna and I to have the opportunity to meet him."

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Edwards is footing the bill for his and the first lady's week-long trip to Italy. The state will pay for Edwards' trooper security detail that is required by state law.

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

Edmonson's trip will be paid for by Metanoia House. Alario said he will be using funds from his campaign account to pay for his trip. Johns said he will pay for most of his expenses through his private funds, but a small portion will come from his campaign account.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.