Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican lawmakers play an increasing role in opposition to the death penalty. Both political principles and, for some, their Catholic faith, play a role in motivating their stand. “Si… Read more

Washington D.C., Oct 27, 2017 / 03:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Middle Eastern Patriarchs reaffirmed the deep history of Christianity in the Middle East and called for its perseverance into the future at this week’s In Defense of Christians summit in Washington, D.C. They called for Western partners to remember that history, and to help keep Christianity in its ancient homeland, as people from around the world work for peace and an end to conflict in the Middle East. “We as Christians in the Middle East: we are going to remain and stay there,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch John X Yazigi. “We are not strangers in that part of the world: we are people of light and of truth.” Patriarch John X spoke Oct. 24 at the opening press conference for the In Defense of Christians (IDC) 2017 Summit, bringing together Patriarchs of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Middle Eastern Christians of all denominations, and policy leaders from the United States. The organization and the summit seek to preserve and protect Christian and other religious minorities living in the Middle East. This year’s theme for the Oct. 24-26 summit was American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East. The keynote speaker at the event was US Vice President Mike Pence, who promised direct American aid for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was the recipient of IDC’s Cedars of God award. Speaking alongside Yazigi at the press conference held at the National Press Club were Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros Rai and IDC Vice President Andrew Doran. Patriarch Rai pointed to the high number of refugees who had fled to his country of Lebanon, as well as to the West and other areas, as violence and instability has increased over the past several decades. “The conflicts that have beset the Middle East have driven out millions of busy citizens, including so many Christians, and with their exodus, our region becomes more extreme, more dangerous to the outside world,” the patriarch said.   He pointed out that Lebanon has taken on an immense number of these refugees over the past 70 years, first from Palestine and now Syria, stressing the nation’s resources. He noted that the proportion of refugees now living in Lebanon would be analagous to more than 150 million refugees living in the United States. He thus called on Americans to help solve these problems. “We have been abandoned to solve the problems we did not create,” the patriarch urged. “We look to America to exercise its diplomacy to solve the many challenges in the region that have a direct and indirect impact on Lebanon,” he stated. “We have a long tradition of pluralism in the Middle East, but in recent years we have been divided against one another,” he lamented, calling for Middle Eastern Christians to come together with Muslims as well as with people from the West who wish to help in order to form a solution together. Rai also pointed out that the West’s approach to refugees could be more helpful. While he emphasized that Christians want to go back to their countries, he questioned rhetoric from nations that say that “refugees should be allowed to live in dignity wherever they may be, while those nations have closed their borders and prevented them from entering into their countries.” “Where is the human dignity of all that? If the family is living under a tent and you’ve given them a meal, do you think that’s enough for their human dignity to be guarded?” he asked. Patriarch John X echoed many of Rai’s concerns, especially the ability of Christians to have the “right to express on our destiny and our own plight.”  He stressed that the Christian message is one of peace, of truth, and of the Good News: “The Church is the beacon of truth in this agitated world and we will continue to witness to that truth even if we are hanged on the Cross.” In addition to calling for the end of war, the Greek Orthodox patriarch also stressed the necessity for Middle Eastern Christians to be involved in finding the solution to the problems they face – to be partners in finding peace. “Sometimes the media may portray us in a negative way, not necessarily in the way that we would have us portrayed,” he said, adding that “ if we are talking about our destiny in our land, we have something to say.” One of the solutions Christians of the Middle East want, he stressed, is the ability to “seek unity of our own country” and rebuild their lives in their own homelands. “We call all Christians and Muslims to work together for the well-being of their country.” Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, founder of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and an Iraqi Christian, offered a statement as a member of the audience, saying that many Christians from the region “are lost in-between” political and military struggles of actors within the region and from overseas. She urged Americans to consider the long history of Christianity in the Middle East, where it has thrived since the first century, and asked if “we expect it will be easy for people to leave their land?” when proposing solutions that require resettlement into new areas or permanent residency in the West. She called for increased awareness and education on Middle Eastern Christianity among the American people, and advocated for all to seek permanent peace. Read more

Atlanta, Ga., Oct 27, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA).- Today, October 27, the organizers of January’s historic Women’s March are starting their convention in Detroit with the theme “Reclaiming Our Time.” But while the event was covered i… Read more

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2017 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The concern felt by both the Catholic Church and local civil leaders for the future of Europe provides an opportunity for collaboration in creating a better future, a high-level European politician said Friday. “So if we both, political and Church, are concerned, then we surely have the capacity between us to make it better. This is what it’s about,” Mairead McGuinness, vice president of the European Parliament, said Oct. 27. “We’re looking at ways of trying to listen, engage, move the conversation along, from a place where we’re both concerned about the future of Europe.” She spoke to journalists on the first day of a Vatican-sponsored conference on the future of Europe, taking place in Rome Oct. 27-29. Titled “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” the conference gathers together hundreds of high-level Church and E.U. political leaders. Some 350 participants from 28 delegations representing all E.U. countries are in attendance, as well as academics, ambassadors, representatives of Catholic organizations and movements, as well as other Christian delegations. Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the E.U. (TFEU) requires dialogue between the parliamentary institutions and religious and non-confessional organizations. As vice president of the European Parliament, McGuinness said it is her job to look after this dialogue. This has been “really uplifting,” she said, “first of all to know the depth of interest among the religious communities to have this engagement. And second, we can learn a lot by just listening to those who are in leadership roles and we can learn from each other.” In a speech to open the conference, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See is not indifferent to the problems and fate of Europe “and it will always want to offer its own contribution to the idea of the people of the continent.” We must never lose sight of the fact that the foundation of the European Union is the many beliefs of the women and men who make up the continent, he said, ensuring that all ideas for the future are steeped in reality, placing the human being at the center. “The E.U. Project is a human project,” he said, something which can’t be forgotten as Europe searches for a way forward. Read more

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of a Vatican conference exploring the future of the European Union, several ambassadors to the Holy See have said the event is a prime opportunity to share ideas with those who are beyond their usual circles. And the Church, they said,  is in a unique position to speak on major issues, offering key insights from which many global leaders could benefit. Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg, told CNA that when exploring the current challenges that Europe is facing, it’s important to recognize that there are different visions, “but that they are reconcilable, and that if you speak to each other you can march in a good direction.” “I think the greatest enemy of Europe is the idea that everybody agrees on everything which is just one vision. It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “We’re a big family with many different members who sort-of agree on a general direction, but who may sometimes have different opinions on things.” Habsburg, who will be leading an Italian-language group during the conference, said he is looking forward to the discussion because “it’s not going to be the usual people together; they are really going to mix (it up) so that you sit with people you don’t usually meet.” Because of this “there’s no danger that everybody pats each other on the back in mutual agreement on everything, but you are really going to be exposed to different ideas and different geographic regions, and that’s a very, very exciting prospect,” he said. Added to this is the desire to more intentionally involve the voice of the Church, which is organizing the event. So another key goal, then, is “to bring Church people into contact with E.U. people to engage the Church more into E.U. business and topics.” In comments to CNA, Irish Ambassador to the Holy See Emma Madigan said that given this year’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome that established the E.U., “we want as many voices as possible involved in the future of Europe.” “Europe is only strengthened by the engagement of thoughtful people, hearing their concerns and their criticism and their hopes,” she said. The conference is an opportunity “for a broader and a deeper exchange of views among people of great experience and insight,” Madigan said, voicing her belief that the event “will benefit both from the different perspectives the participants will bring, but also the common ground they share in terms of the global challenges they identify and the fundamental values of dialogue, cooperation and inclusion.” Titled “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” the conference takes place in Rome Oct. 27-29, and will gather together hundreds of high-level Church and E.U. political leaders. It is being organized by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community in partnership with the Holy See, and will draw hundreds of civil and ecclesial leaders from across Europe and the E.U. to offer a constructive reflection on the challenges facing Europe. Rather than an official congress with a formal concluding declaration, the event will be more of a frank discussion between the various stakeholders, as well as an opportunity to for the different parties to exchange ideas and opinions. Some 350 participants from 28 delegations representing all E.U. countries are slated to attend, including high-level E.U. politicians and Catholic hierarchy, academics, ambassadors, representatives of different Catholic organizations and movements, as well as from other Christian delegations. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will open the conference with a keynote speech Friday, and his address will be followed by a speech from former President of the European Parliament Pat Cox on the “crossroads” at which Europe currently stands. From there, discussion will dive into topics such as the state of democracy in Europe and how to build bridges among the various E.U. member-states, as well as what kind of economy is best for Europe amid a changing world. On Saturday, various ambassadors to the Holy See will chair discussion groups divided by language, so the various interlocutors can meet and exchange ideas with representatives from different countries and organizations, both civil and ecclesial.   The conference will close with an audience with Pope Francis, who throughout his pontificate has been outspoken about his vision for Europe, including the need to “rediscover” the Christian roots of the continent and to find new, innovative and creative solutions to modern problems. Habsburg said he is happy to see the bishops organizing the event, and that from the words the Pope has spoken, it’s obvious that Francis “really cares about Europe, and the E.U.” “I was present at the E.U. 60th anniversary meeting in Rome, and you could feel that he really cares about Europe and tries to engage in a dialogue,” he said. As far as the conference and the role of Church leaders in shaping the future of the E.U., Habsburg said he believes the event was organized in part because the Holy See wants to “sensitize the local bishops conferences to E.U. topics in order to help governments.” “My interpretation is that the Pope wants to expose Church members from different European states to major E.U. issues and make them a partner in the discussion,” he said. And coupled with this is also the fact that “one doesn’t want religion to be pushed out of political talk and everyday reality in the E.U.” “I’m very happy that this comes from the bishops,” he said, adding that “perhaps sometimes, through all the hectic everyday politics, you need those moments where you can sit back and look at the greater picture.” In comments to CNA, British Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy noted that Pope Francis continually encourages “both the Church and governments to respond to the challenges that they see around them with compassion for the vulnerable and a strong sense of our values.” “We support him in that,” she said, adding that the British government also welcomes the fact that European bishops and Church leaders want to contribute to the discussion on the future of Europe. “It is important that the religious perspective on Europe’s future direction is heard,” she said. Similarly, Madigan noted that Pope Francis’ words about Europe have been strong, and that he has always sought “to challenge European leaders to create the best version of Europe they possibly can.” Madigan, who has been Ireland’s ambassador to the Holy See since 2014, pointed to what she has perceived as a “subtle development” in the Pope’s approach to Europe the past few years, continuing to challenge, but with greater focus on “the extent to which Europe exemplifies values that should be more prevalent in the world than they are – peace, democracy, dialogue, cooperation and respect for human dignity and freedom.” French Ambassador to the Holy See Philippe Zeller also commented on the poignancy of the Pope’s message on Europe, particularly in his recent speeches. Also pointing to the subtle change in the tone used by Pope Francis – who during his visit to Strasbourg in 2014 told E.U. leaders that a “grandmother Europe” needed to move beyond “outdated” systems, but in March was much more keen in highlighting the potential that Europe has for the future – Zeller said the March speech especially “was very well received,” particularly the reference to Europe’s roots. Noting how in his March speech Francis pointed out that the six “founding fathers” of the E.U. “were all engaged in, in a personal view of course, the Catholic religion, in Christianity,” Zeller said that to present this view is “very important right now,” as Europe is re-thinking its identity. Both Zeller and Habsburg stressed the importance of remembering Europe’s Christian roots. It’s crucial to introduce ideas based on “common heritage, on cultural roots,” Zeller said, and voiced his excitement at having the opportunity for leaders and politicians to have an open discussion about Europe, “which actually is not doing very well.” “The E.U. faces real and difficult challenges now,” he said, so the idea of having a meeting among the episcopal conferences in Europe as well as political leaders is “very interesting and we are happy as European ambassadors to the Holy See to be associated and to share the views of these different conferences.” Likewise, Habsburg said he believes that for Europe truly to advance, it must “go back to core values, and some of those core values, in my opinion, are the Christian roots of Europe.” Both family and solidarity are two key values that need to be re-emphasized today, he said, adding that there has to be a careful balance “between doing things together and having a healthy respect of the differences.” In terms of the message each country wants to bring to the discussion table, Madigan, Habsburg, and Zeller all voiced their desire to both share their own local experience on key issues, and to listen. For France, Zeller said their new president, Emmanuel Macron, has a lot of ideas on the challenges Europe faces, including security and defense policies, economic and business policies, as well as the desire to reduce unemployment and increase trade opportunities. “It’s interesting for us to see that those ideas presented by our new president and government could be shared or could trigger some ideas” within the E.U., he said, and pointed to what he believes is a need to “re-introduce this aspect of common values.” As for Ireland, which in many ways is facing a heightened sense of national uncertainty following the 2016 Brexit vote, Madigan noted that almost immediately after the result of the UK referendum was known, members of the E.U.27 met in Bratislava, where they recognized that “the E.U. is not perfect but it is the best instrument we have for addressing the new challenges we are facing.” Looking forward, Madigan said the future of the E.U. “is inseparable from the future of the world,” and that as such, members must adapt to the new challenges faced not only on the continent, but throughout the world. Europe is and must be “much more than a debate on institutions,” she said. Rather, “it is about achieving outcomes for all our citizens and the expression of our values in the world.” Voicing his hopes for the outcome of the conference, Habsburg said his biggest desire is that “we should not talk so much about each other, but talk with each other, and most of all listen to each other.” “I have the impression that some countries which are at times being perceived as being very critical of Europe or even rebellious, often only have wishes that could somehow also further the common European cause, but are often not listened to or are often drowned in lots of political narratives,” he said. However, during the conference everyone will be able to speak up about their own ideas and visions of Europe, he said, explaining that discussion groups will focus largely on questions such as “what is your idea about the path of Europe in your part of the world? What are you dreams? Where could we go? What do we have in common?” “It’s a real serious stopping, sitting down together and talking, and I think Europe really needs that now,” he said. And while heads of state meet with regularity, the conference is unique in that so many people from different levels of both Church and state will attend and share ideas. “So it’s really going to be a very interesting experience,” he said. “I think this conference is an incredible sign of hope.”  Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report. Read more

Ryiadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct 26, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has suggested a turn towards moderate Islam, especially among younger Saudis who want to “destroy” extremist thoughts, but one expert suggests religious freedom is the best path for Saudi Arabia. “As a general matter, no government can ‘destroy extremist thoughts,’ including the government of Saudi Arabia,” Georgetown University professor Thomas F. Farr told CNA. “Even when U.S. forces ‘destroy’ ISIS militarily, the problem of extremist interpretations of Islam will remain.” Farr, who directs the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, advocated religious freedom as the best approach in Saudi Arabia. His remarks follow comments from Prince Mohammed, the new heir apparent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who recently spoke to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian. “We are simply reverting to what we [once] followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.” “After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed continued. “We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.” Farr welcomed the encouragement of more moderate interpretations of Islam, but cautioned: “their success in that endeavor will have less to do with the use of force than it will the government’s willingness to move toward true religious freedom, defined in this context as the freedom of all religions in the kingdom openly to challenge Saudi Wahhabism, the ideological source of much violent Islamist extremism.” “In short, what governments can do to undermine violent extremism is to protect religious freedom,” he said. Saudi Arabia’s religious freedom record has come under criticism. In its 2017 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a tier one “Country of Particular Concern.” “Saudi courts continue to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, and blasphemy, and a law classifying blasphemy and the promotion of atheism as terrorism has been used to target human rights defenders, among others,” the report said. The government also privileges its interpretation of Sunni Islam over other interpretations and bans non-Muslim public places of worship. The commission’s report also cited the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 program, focused on economic and cultural transformation, as a reason for improved religious freedom conditions. There was a “significant decrease” in the power of the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a continued government commitment to reform textbooks and curricula, and increased efforts to counter domestic and international extremism. Prince Mohammed’s remarks expanded on comments he had made at an investment conference announcing a $500 billion planned independent economic zone across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, The Guardian reports. “Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world,” the prince said. “So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.” Read more

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2017 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- US Vice President Mike Pence’s promises Wednesday of better aid for persecuted Christians and others in the Middle East has drawn praise from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus. Pence addressed In Defense of Christians’ annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East Oct. 25. The vice president said groups such as the Islamic State have singled out Christians for persecution. He noted that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East. “Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are – vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ,” said Pence. Pence said that President Donald Trump has told the State Department to stop funding “ineffective” U.N. relief efforts. “Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” he said. Instead, the U.S. will provide humanitarian assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development, faith-based groups, and private organizations “to help those who are persecuted for their faith.” “This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need,” the vice president said. Pence charged that the U.N. has often failed to help “the most vulnerable communities, especially religious minorities” and has repeatedly denied funding to faith-based groups with “proven track records.” “We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he said. Commenting on Pence’s speech, Anderson noted that “A year ago the United States used the right word to describe what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. That word was genocide,” said Anderson, referring to a March 2016 State Department declaration. For Anderson, Pence’s speech meant “those words were put into action.” “The Knights of Columbus applauds Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement that the Trump administration will begin providing aid directly to religious minority groups impacted by ISIS’ genocide,” he said. Anderson said a lack of aid to Christians and other religious minorities has been a major problem. “For almost two years, the Knights of Columbus has warned that Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East have been falling through the cracks in the aid system, and has been urging the United States government to provide aid directly to genocide-targeted communities,” he said. “We are pleased that tonight, the administration has promised to do just that.” In 2014 the Catholic fraternal organization launched a Christian Refugee Relief Fund that has given more than $13 million in humanitarian assistance, largely in Iraq, Syria, and nearby countries. The group was among those documenting Islamic State group atrocities and advocating on behalf of Middle East Christians and other minorities. According to Anderson, the impact of Pence’s announcement on the survival of threatened minority communities “cannot be underestimated.” Read more

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A pro-marriage student group at Georgetown University has drawn support from prominent Catholic scholars, after a student petition accused the group of promoting intolerance. Love Saxa is a pro-marriage student group at Georgetown, which faces an Oct. 30 hearing before the Student Activities Commission, an advisory body to the university’s Vice President of Student Affairs.   Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of “Building a Bridge,” a book on dialogue between the Catholic Church and LGBT groups, said that he supports the right of “Love Saxa,” to promote its views at Georgetown. “Why should a student group that espouses Catholic teaching respectfully be defunded by a Catholic university? As long as Love Saxa treats LGBT people (both on campus and off campus) with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ as the Catechism requires, then they should be able to have their say on campus,” Martin told CNA. The group, which says it “exists to promote healthy relationships on campus through cultivating a proper understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and family among Georgetown students,” has been accused by a student petition of violating university standards for student organizations by “fostering hatred and intolerance.”   Robert P. George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and noted scholar of marriage and religious liberty, also voiced support for Love Saxa. “The illiberal – even authoritarian – spirit infusing the effort to defund Love Saxa at Georgetown ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum,” he said. “And on top of that, as Fr. Martin suggests, there is something approaching absurdity in the idea that at a Catholic university a group ought to be defunded for upholding and teaching the idea of marriage and the principles of sexual morality upheld and taught by the Catholic Church.” If Love Saxa is found to be in violation of university standards, as the student petition alleges, the commission could recommend that the university impose sanctions, including a loss of funding and access to university facilities. A spokesperson for Georgetown University told CNA that such sanctions are only used as a last resort, and that groups in violation of university standards are first given opportunities to rectify violations. “We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity. Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church. We also support a climate that is welcoming to all students and supporting of our LGBTQ communities,” the spokesperson added. As the complaint is reviewed by the Student Advisory Commission, Georgetown’s spokesperson told CNA that “we encourage all students to follow our community commitment to open dialogue and mutual respect.” Martin also encouraged respectful dialogue, rather than conflict, at Georgetown.   “Groups that oppose the point of view of Love Saxa should also be able to have their say,” he told CNA. “For a true dialogue to happen around LGBT issues, especially at Catholic universities, all participants should be willing to, first, treat one another respectfully and lovingly; second, listen to one another with open minds; and third, be willing to learn from one another.” George also called for respectful conversation on the matter. “The sheer, brute, undeniable fact is that reasonable people of goodwill disagree today about fundamental questions having to do with the nature and social purposes of marriage and with sexuality and sexual morality,” he said. “When reasonable people of goodwill find themselves in disagreement, even on issues of profound social importance and deep personal meaning, they engage each other in robust but civil and respectful discourse – they do not attempt to win cheap victories by smearing those who disagree with them as ‘bigots’ or ‘haters’,” he continued. “They recognize their own fallibility and do not try to immunize their beliefs from responsible criticism. They acknowledge that their deepest, most cherished, even identity-forming beliefs could be wrong. That motivates them to listen to critics, rather than trying to banish them.” George added that as a Catholic university, Georgetown “does not present itself as a non-sectarian institution that maintains a stance of neutrality on moral questions currently in dispute among reasonable citizens.” “So it would be fully within its rights in declining to fund a group that promoted values contrary to its own,” he said. “But, as Fr. Martin observed, it is Love Saxa that is upholding the values of Georgetown as a Catholic institution. It is those who are pressing Georgetown to defund Love Saxa who teach doctrines concerning marriage and sexual morality that are contrary to those of the Catholic Church.” Read more

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2017 / 02:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the U.S. opioid crisis a public health emergency, calling federal government agencies to focus their resources on finding solutions to the growing pr… Read more

Vatican City, Oct 26, 2017 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis conversed with astronauts orbiting earth on the International Space Station on Thursday, discussing questions as diverse as man’s place in the universe, the fragility of life and the planet, and international cooperation. “Astronomy makes us contemplate the horizons of the universe and raises questions in us: Where did we come from? Where are we going?” the Pope said. His first question to the astronauts: “What is your thought on man’s place in the universe?” Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli responded, saying that man’s place in the universe is a “complex question,” especially for him since his specialties are in the technical realm. However, he noted that being in space has helped him to realize that the more humanity learns, the more clearly we can see how much we still do not know. “I would love for people like you, not just engineers, not just physicists, but people like you (Holy Father) – theologians, philosophers, poets, writers… – to come here in space, and this will surely happen in the future, I would love (for them) to come here to explore what it means to have a human being in space,” he said. Pope Francis contacted NASA’s International Space Station via a satellite call from the Vatican on Oct. 26. Aboard the space station are a total of six astronauts, including three Americans, two Russians and one Italian, who have been orbiting the earth, about 220 miles away. Three will return to earth in December of this year, and the other three in February 2018. Josef Aschbacher, director of the earth observation programs (ESA), told journalists after the call that for the astronauts, speaking with the Pope was an “experience of a lifetime.” He said the Pope’s questions were all “very interesting” because they have to do with “our life, as humanity.” For example, Francis asked the team what motivated them to become astronauts, and what they enjoy about being in space. “Traveling in space modifies so many things that are taken for granted in everyday life, for example the idea of ??up and down,” he said, also asking if there is anything about living in the space station that has surprised them. American Randolph Bresnik said that what gives him the greatest joy in space is being able “to look outside and see God’s creation maybe a little bit from his perspective. People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of our earth and not be touched in their souls.” There’s an incredible peace and serenity to our planet when you see it in orbit, he said, and there are “no borders, no conflict, it’s just peaceful.” He also said that from space you can see “the thinness of the atmosphere, and it makes you realize how fragile our existence here is.” Pope Francis responded by saying that he loved that answer, how Bresnik had pointed out the earth’s fragility, how it’s a “passing moment,” the earth turning at a rate of 10 km per second. The astronauts also spoke with Francis about their own diversity and how it is an asset in their work on the International Space Station. “As we work here on the space station and in our international partnership, we hope that the example of what we can achieve together is an example for all the world and humanity,” Bresnik said. Francis said that although our society is very individualistic, cooperation is essential in life, asking about examples of collaboration in their work. The International Space Station is a great example of international collaboration, American Joseph Acaba replied, because the crew members are from different countries and cultures, and they work together, also communicating on a daily basis with control centers in the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada, and nine different countries in Europe. “It’s our diversity that makes us stronger,” Acaba said. “And I think we need to embrace who we are as individuals and respect those around us. And by working together we can do things much better than we can as individuals.” The other astronauts on the call were American Mark T. Vande Hei, and Russians Aleksandr Misurkin and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The encounter between the astronauts on the space station and the Pope was a fascinating intersection between religion and science, said Aschbacher, noting that science can assist in the search for God through its curiosity to better understand our world. Science asks some of the same questions as religion, such as, “where we are from and where we are going and where do we live,” he said. Roberto Battiston, president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), added that “there is no doubt that science is a way of searching for the truth” and though religion and science may have different ways of searching, they still have the same goal. Pope Francis’ call marks the second time a pope has contacted astronauts in space. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI became the first when he called the International Space Station via satellite link, speaking with 12 astronauts for about 20 minutes. In the call, Benedict asked the astronauts questions about what it is like to view the earth from outer space and if it gave them a new perspective on the importance of promoting peace and caring for our planet’s resources.   Read more

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