BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - What began as prayer and bloomed into a mission to help human trafficking victims has become a brick and mortar reality. A year after breaking ground, officials from the state, law enforcement, local clergy, and the Vatican cut the ribbon on Metanoia Manor.
"We know that all of us here today believe in the fight for freedom for these victims, so that they may live joyful lives and hope for a better future, just like you and me," said Sr. Normita Nunez during the dedication ceremony.
Baton Rouge, with its major interstates running cross country, sits on a twisted crossroads of human sex trafficking. A report from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) shows there were more than 350 trafficking victims found in 2015, and nearly 450 in 2016. Half of those were children, including some younger than 12-years-old.
Seeing the problem, Zachary priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, began a unique mission with the backing of the Vatican, state leaders, and law enforcement to care for and rehabilitate those victims. The result is Metanoia Manor.
The word "metanoia" is Greek and means "the journey of changing one's mind, heart, self, or way of life."
"Caring for and putting back together the lives of these young kids, who have been so horribly victimized, that's where we need a lot of prayer. That's where we need a lot of help," said Fr. Bayhi.
The manor was built in a remote, secret location and will house up to 16 teenage girls. Nuns from the Sisters of Mercy will run the home and provide physical, emotional, and spiritual healing so these girls can re-enter the world when they are ready. For the sisters, this is both a divine calling and a personal one.
"That could be me," said Sr. Alexandrine Rasoanirina from Madagascar. "Thinking about that, I want to save, reach my hand out to save that one soul of that girl."
Governor John Bel Edwards, along with the sisters running the facility, recently traveled to Rome to discuss the mission with the Vatican and to ask for the Pope's blessing. While it took years of planning and fundraising to open these doors, the hardest part is still ahead.
"There is no book that says here's what you do, but guess what? These kids need someone to love them and keep them safe. That we will do," said Bayhi.
Bayhi says the manor still needs donations and plenty of prayers. To donate or learn more, click here.