The Francis Project, a new initiative created in October that attempts to foster on-campus dialogue about human dignity, held its first campus-wide event Monday evening in the Healey Family Student Center.
Around 60 people attended the event, which featured a talk by Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien and a showcase of how groups on campus are working toward human dignity. Four groups were present to speak with students: Students Stopping the Trafficking of People, GU Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of Georgetown University and Georgetown Right to Life.
The initiative will serve as a forum to bring together groups of all different religious backgrounds who share the common goal of recognizing the significance of human life, according to O’Brien.
“The Francis Project takes its inspiration from Pope Francis because he articulates for Catholics and non-Catholics, by both what he says and what he does, a message of human dignity that we want to make sure we share on campus,” O’Brien said. “It is to support natural life from conception to natural death in all forms and to defend human dignity of all peoples. That’s the inspiration.”
Andrea Price (COL ’14, GRD ’15), who is currently leading the Francis Project, said that she hopes the discussion that will result among students will make the often misunderstood position of pro-life more clear.
“Usually when you’re talking pro-life, people go right to the abortion issue,” Price said. “But the Francis Project is hoping to promote awareness of the Catholic notion of pro-life at Georgetown. The Catholic notion of pro-life is that life is sacred and special and that humans deserve dignity from conception to natural death and at all moments in between.”
The Francis Project is still in development, so it does not yet have a set number of groups with which it will collaborate throughout the year. Other details of the initiative, too, such as how often the group will come together have yet to be decided, though Price said the biggest goal is to provide a safe space for discussion.
“This is not to create a new group, but really to network students and groups that are already active in promoting human life and human dignity, and most particularly not just religiously based groups,” O’Brien said.
Price knows first-hand the difference having an open and understanding environment for dialogue can make.
“Personally, as a freshman I was afraid to talk about pro-life issues on campus because I was afraid of being verbally attacked or being judged,” Price said. “It took me a long time to find a safe space to discuss these types of things and know that I was respected and that I was being listened to.”
Georgetown has received criticism in recent years by alumni and fellow Catholics who say that Georgetown is not Catholic enough. Most notably, William Peter Blatty (C ’50), the author of “The Exorcist,” filed a formal complaint with the archbishop of Washington this year regarding the operations of Georgetown, which the Vatican responded to as well-founded concerns.
Price said that she was hopeful the Francis Project would give students and alumni a more favorable view of the university’s religious identity.
“Hopefully the Francis Project will make mental connections … between our social justice work, which has roots in Catholic social teaching, and also the Catholic identity of the university,” Price said. “It’s one thing to have crosses in the classroom or have masses every Sunday or every day here, but it’s another thing to put your faith into action.”
The project will also attempt to bring one prominent speaker to campus each year to talk about themes relating to human dignity, O’Brien said.
The environment of excitement and interest at Monday’s event was a hopeful sign for the future endeavors of the Francis Project, Price said.
“I had a lot of people coming up to me and asking, ‘What’s next? What’s next? This is so great, we can’t wait for the next thing,’” Price said. “That was really great for me to hear. So the event was definitely a positive experience, and it just made people interested and hungry for more of these issues.”
Clare Murphy (SFS ’15), president of Students Stopping the Trafficking of People, represented her group at the showcase and said that she looks forward to collaborating with The Francis Project to provide a chance to dialogue about the value of human life.
“Our group participating in The Francis Project will be able to bring attention to the issues of promoting human dignity as a whole,” Murphy said. “And specifically for our group, it will hopefully be able to bring attention to the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery by getting students to start thinking about what that issue is and the dignity that is in every person.”
Celia Calano (COL ’18) said the event was helpful for her to find ways she could get involved in promoting human dignity on campus.
“I learned more about Pope Francis’ involvement in human dignity and about the issue in general. And I learned about clubs at Georgetown that I might not have known about already,” Calano said.
Correction: A previous version of the article stated that 30 to 40 people attended the first Francis Project event. In actuality, about 60 people attended.