By Jordan Corona
President Ken Starr and Tom Farr of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs met the pope with about 60 scholars and journalists participating in a two-day conference on Christianity and freedom in Rome last month.
Georgetown and Baylor co-sponsored the event at which contributing scholars presented their research on religious persecution and the ways the Christian faith has contributed to freedom.
This conference was among the first in a series of collaborative efforts between Georgetown and Baylor. Last October, Starr visited Georgetown and sat on a panel discussion about religious liberty moderated by BBC journalist Janet Little. Starr addressed the conference Dec. 14.
In an interview after his visit to Rome, Starr said, “The vision was and is that a great Jesuit University and a great university in the Baptist and free church tradition would join forces and collaborate in various ways with respect to the cause of religious freedom for all persons everywhere.” Georgetown is the oldest Jesuit University in the nation.
Though Starr couldn’t give specifics on any plans for future partnership with Georgetown, he said his administration hopes and plans for more collaboration.
“Through our Institute for Religious Studies, lead brilliantly by Professor Byron Johnson,” Starr said. “Baylor began connecting with Georgetown’s Berkley center many months ago.”
The conference was the culmination of two-years of research, conducted by 36 scholars commissioned by Georgetown’s Religious Liberties Project that Farr directs. Their work, available online, will be printed in a series of three volumes.
“When I observed that Baylor’s support of the conference constituted a Catholic—Baptist alliance, about which we were all supremely excited, Francis responded with a big smile,” Farr said in an email to the Lariat.
Farr presented Pope Francis with Spanish translation of a book titled “Religious Freedom: Why Now?”
“The Pope then turned to the group,” he said, “And said, in English, ‘pray for me!’ He then added, looking at our team, ‘go on!’”
Starr’s* speech presented a history of religious liberty by an American perspective.
“The struggle for religious liberty did not happen very easily,” he said.
A major theme at the academic conference was the idea that Christianity contributes to freedom.
About 300 participants, according to Farr’s estimate, found a place to hear the speakers, scholars, clergy and keynotes in the John Paul II auditorium at the Pontifical Urbiana University in Rome.
Starr said religious liberty is not a focus of public policy or the U.S. State department to the extent that it should be.
Starr referenced last week’s chapel message and said Baylor students should have an understanding of the culture of freedom as demonstrated by church history and then be able to engage the public in support of religious liberty.
Farr, who lectured on campus for the Institute for Religious Freedom late last September said, “A student should demand the freedom to speak the truth about religion as he or she sees it, and for the right of all others to do the same.”
*Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify that Starr spoke on the history of religious liberty from an American perspective . Originally the sentence implied the Pope spoke on religious liberty. Corrected: Jan. 22, 2014.