Pope talks with astronauts on International Space Station

Source: VIS/NASA

Pope Francis had a live audiovisual conversation with the crew of Mission 53 on board the International Space Station, in flight 400 km above the Earth on 26 October. The crew is composed of: Randolph Bresnik (USA), Commander of NASA; Paolo Nespoli (Italy), ESA engineer; Mark T.Vande Hei (USA), NASA engineer; Joseph Acaba (USA, of Puerto Rican origin), NASA engineer; Sergey Ryazanskiy (Russia), engineer; and Alexander Misurkin (Russia), engineer.

Roberto Battiston, president of the Italian Space Agency and Josef Aschbacher, director of the Earth Observation Programs of the European Space Agency, joined the live link-up, held in the Study of the Paul VI Hall.

Pope Francis asked: "In light of your experiences in space, what are your thoughts regarding the place of man in the universe?"

Paolo Nespoli replied: "Holy Father, this is a complex question.. I feel like a technical person, an engineer, and I'm here among experiments, machinery and equipment. When we speak of these much more internal questions of where we come from, I remain rather perplexed. I think that our objective here is that of knowing our being and to fill our knowledge to understand what's around us," he said. "But on the other hand, an interesting thing is that the more we know, the more we realise how little we know."

Pope Francis then pointed out a painting in the room where he was speaking, based on the 'Divine Comedy' a poem written by the 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri. That poem refers to love as a force "which moves the sun and the other stars." With that in mind, Pope Francis asked the crew: "What do you think about referring to love as the force that moves the universe?"

This question resonated with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, who replied by telling the Pope about an audiobook he recently listened to called 'The Little Prince.' In the story, a young boy is ready to give up his life to care for the person who was closest to him. "The best example of what is love is perhaps what is shown in this book," Misurkin said through a translator.

Pope Francis also asked the crew to talk about their reasons for becoming astronauts and what they enjoy the most about spending time at the space station.

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky spoke about his grandfather, who was a chief engineer for Sputnik. "For me, it's great honour to continue what he was doing to fulfill his dreams, because spaceflight is the future of all humanity and always the frontier for new technologies and sciences."

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik told the Pope: "What gives me the greatest joy every day is to be able to look outside and see God's creation from his perspective. People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of the Earth and not be touched in their souls… As we see the peace and serenity of our planet … there's no borders, no conflict .. it's just peaceful," Bresnik said. "We hope that an example of what we can achieve together in space sets an example for the rest of the world."

Pope Francis replied: "You have succeeded in understanding that Earth is too fragile … and that it is so capable of destroying itself or doing bad things."

At the end of the call, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba thanked the Pope "for making us reflect on things that are greater than we are."
Pope Francis thanked his new friends, offered his blessings and asked that they, too, pray for him in return.

While this was the first time Pope Francis has called the Space Station, he isn't the first Pope to speak with astronauts in space. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI spoke with a group of 12 astronauts from Expedition 27 and the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission. See: ICN 21 May 2011 Pope Benedict chats with crew on Space Station www.indcatholicnews.com/news/18268

Watch Pope Francis' call here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK-7g3vWXpQ

Tags: Moon, Space Station, Astronauts, Pope Francis

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