A delegation from the U.S. state of Louisiana was among the special guests meeting with Pope Francis during his general audience on Wednesday.
by Governor John Bel Edwards, the delegation asked the Pope to bless
the pioneering work that is going on in Louisiana to prevent human
trafficking and to protect victims who’ve been trapped in this modern
That work includes special training for police officers and the
opening of a shelter for sixteen young women in a secure location near
the city of Baton Rouge.
Fr Bayhi was inspired the tireless anti-trafficking efforts of
Italian Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, whose passion, he says “is
He explains that the Louisiana initiative has brought
together the governor, state agencies, law enforcement, legislators and
senators , alongside ‘Metanoia’, the umbrella group for the project
which he founded.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity to see a state
reach out and say ‘slaves no more’, we need to care for these kids” he
Governor John Bel Edwards says that Louisiana was a “hotbed” of human
trafficking activity, partly as a result of some 15 million tourists
that come primarily to New Orleans each year.
The situation is also
impacted by the “interstate” highway that runs from California to
Florida, passing through southern Louisiana.
“It’s really a tragic circumstance and we have to really do much
better in Louisiana and around the country,” the governor insists.
However, numbers of trafficking cases are dropping because of the
Metanoia shelter initiative.
Speaking about setting up the house, Fr Bayhi says it will provide
shelter for 16 children at a time, allowing them to “feel safe and
secure, give them some sense of worth” as well as providing them with
life skills to enable them to find other ways of earning a living.
Eugenia has helped by sending four sisters who will take care of the
young survivors, together with other local professionals.
Fr Bayhi talks about Pope John Paul II’s writings on the “culture of
death”, saying that human trafficking “is one more step in the
devaluation of the dignity and the sanctity of human life.” He also has a
stark warning for male consumers of the human trafficking industry,
saying they create “a deficit in the dignity of human life.”
“If anyone thinks that internet porn is victimless,” he insists,
“someone is there making those kids do that stuff. They are not there
voluntarily and you’re paying the money that makes it worth while to
kidnap these kids and force them into that. You may have never picked up
one of these children on a roadside but you make that possible”.
“If we want to fight this,” Fr Bayhi concludes, “we have got to
destroy the market that allows human life to be so denigrated. And if
you have any part in that, you’re part of the problem. We invite you to
be part of the solution.”
Find out more about the project on the Metanoia website: metanoia-inc.org