We publish, courtesy of Pontifical Lateran University, greeting of S.E.R. Msgr. Enrico Dal Covolo, SDB, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, to Participants of the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science, held in July 2012.
Pontifical Lateran University, July 1-6, 2012.
It is a great honor for me to welcome you all to our University, traditionally known as the “University of the Pope”, for this wonderful Symposium organized by the European Space Agency in conjunction with many public and private institutions. Today marks the first day of an intense week of presentations, debate and discussion concerning the most recent findings in the field of astrophysics. From the time of the establishment of the first Vatican Observatory for the study of the sky, to the construction of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope at Mount Graham in Arizona, the Church has committed considerable resources of time, talent and funds to the study of the “heavenly bodies”, as Copernicus once wrote. All of us at one time have gazed into the nighttime sky and marveled at the picture of the universe which we contemplate: a vast cosmos of nearly infinite proportions, filled with phenomena beyond our grasp and comprehension.
The task of the astronomer is to utilize the tools of technology and the ingenuity of the human intellect to achieve a scientific understanding of the universe that helps all people to begin to unlock the mysteries surrounding us. This is a profound and noble vocation, and here at the Lateran University we are grateful for the chance to welcome some of the world’s leading astronomers to this common quest for understanding.
Such a “common quest”, in the words of Fr. George Coyne, S.J. (former Director of the Vatican Observatory), is shared by scientists and theologians, each using their own methods and interpretative tools, to advance our knowledge of God’s creation. As Pope John Paul II said in his speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1992, «It is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflection or for introducing changes in their teaching». As reiterated in his Papal Encyclical, Fides et ratio of 1998, the Church sees faith and reason as working in harmony in order to answer the most significant questions posed by the human heart: the study of nature with scientific rigor is completed by the study of God’s Revelation, made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. «This intelligibility», as John Paul continues, «attested to by the marvelous discoveries of science and technology, leads us, in the final analysis, to that transcendent and primordial Thought imprinted on all things».
What better place than our University, dedicated to the pursuit of truth, to provide a forum for some of the planet’s most talented astronomers and astrophysicists to discuss their research and plans for the future? Looking upon the intricacies of the observable universe, with its laws of motion and patterns of formation for stars and planets, the human person is prodded to constantly seek new ways of expressing knowledge and understanding. Such an endeavor also leads us to contemplate the universe as having come into existence through the action of an intelligent and loving God.
It is my sincere hope that during this week of lectures and debates, your deep interest in the mystery of the universe will lead you to Him who, as Pope Benedict stated in May of this year, is often the Great Unknown: a God who remains hidden and ignored because of our indifference and incapacity to acknowledge his presence in nature. May that Great Unknown become more clearly identifiable this coming week through the work of all of you. To the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science, we say “Welcome” and “Buon lavoro”!