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An adventure of the human spirit

It was truly an historic occasion, as the President of the Italian Space Agency announced to the world, but also an unprecedented event: the conversation which Benedict XVI held from the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican with astronauts of the International Space Station orbiting around the world. All thanks to a first-ever, live audio and video broadcast between the Pope and the space mission.

And never before has it happened that it is the Pope who asks the questions, as Benedict XVI did, of his interlocutors. Although Paul VI confessed that he would have preferred to keep quiet and listen to the scientists of aerospace and aeronautic medicine, whom he had received in audience on October 5, 1963.

It was precisely Pope Montini who demonstrated the Catholic Church’s interest and support of space programs on more than one occasion, during the period of the first missions into space. More generally, the role played by Catholicism in the promotion of astronomy and of science from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the modern age, is very important; as anyone knows who looks at history without ideological prejudice or old stereotypes which would have the Church an enemy of scientific progress. A half century after the first space missions began in a bitterly competitive context of a race for supremacy between Soviet and American superpowers, much has changed. Nowhere was this more evident than in Benedict XVI’s conversation with the astronauts, who come from different countries, against a backdrop of the flags of various nations.

Today, however, the problems raised in the conversation in space with the Pope, who declared himself like Paul VI to be “very curious to listen,” have not yet been resolved. How can science contribute to the cause of peace? What is the best way to assume responsibility for the future of planet Earth, a fascinating small dot in the immensity of the cosmos? The astronauts gave convincing answers to these questions, which are demanding for everyone. In an “adventure of the human spirit,” as Benedict XVI called it, which is also a, “powerful stimulus to reflect on the origins and on the destiny of the universe and humanity.” Because everything, as Paul VI said on July 20, 1969 celebrating the first landing on the moon, “still depends on the hearts of men.”

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