In a first of its kind call, Pope Benedict XVI had a conversation with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Pope spoke with the astronauts for about twenty minutes from the library of the Vatican through a video link.
Pope also talked with the two astronauts from Italy, Robert Vittori and Paolo Nespoli, on board the ISS.
Pope expressed wishes for the speedy recovery of Gabrielle Giffords
Pope Benedict expressed his wishes for the speedy recovery of the wife of shuttle commander, Mark Kelly, whose wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head in an attempted assassination in January this year.
“Space exploration is a fascinating scientific adventure. It’s also an adventure of the human spirit, a powerful stimulus to reflect on the origins and the destiny of the Universe and humanity.” – Pope Benedict
Giffords was able to watch, from a wheel chair, the take off of the space shuttle Endeavour on May 16.
Pope also talked to Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut on board the ISS, who lost his mother just two weeks ago.
“Dear Paolo, I know that a few days ago your mother has left you and in a few days you when you come back home you will not find her waiting for you. We are all close to you. Me too. I have prayed for her,” said the Pope.
Nespoli, who was on the ISS at the time of the demise of her mother, said, “Holy Father, I felt your prayers.”
Pope asked five questions during his twenty minute conversation with the astronauts.
Pope talked about their presence in space
During their conversation, Pope often referred to the symbolic significance of the presence of the astronauts at the ISS, some 220 miles away from the Earth and travelling at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour.
Benedict said, “Space exploration is a fascinating scientific adventure. It’s also an adventure of the human spirit, a powerful stimulus to reflect on the origins and the destiny of the Universe and humanity.”
“When we look up at the limitless heavens and meditate on the creation of it all, we are struck by the mysteries of His greatness. In the midst of your intense work and research, do you ever stop and reflect like this, perhaps even to say a prayer to the creator?” asked the Pope.
His question was answered by Robert Vittori, the other astronaut from Italy, who said that he prayed at the ISS. He also showed a silver coin which was given to him by the Pope himself before he left for his journey into the space. The coin illustrates Michelangelo’s creation of man.
Vittori plans to return the coin back to Vatican after his space travel; it will have travelled more than 3 million miles in the space by then.
Pope concluded the conversation with his blessings to the astronauts.
“Dear astronauts, I thank you warmly for this wonderful opportunity to meet and dialogue with you, with helping me and many other people to reflect together on the important issues regarding the future of humanity,” he said.