20 July 1969: Pope Paul VI sends blessings to first men on the moon

Source: Vatican Media

On 20 July 1969, millions of men, women and children around the world were glued to the television to watch Neil Armstrong as he became the first man ever to land, and then to walk, on the moon. Pope Paul VI was one of them. As Neil Armstrong stepped down on the powdery surface of the moon, Pope Paul VI clapped his hands and said: "We are close to you with our good wishes and with our prayers, together the whole Catholic Church."

Fifty years after that historic event, scientists agree humanity will have to take another giant step forward to try to equal the achievement and legacy of Apollo 11 and its crew.

After the landing, Pope Paul VI sent a message through space in which he blessed the three astronauts, and a congratulatory telegram to then US President, Richard Nixon.

Pope Paul VI said the moonwalk was a recognition of the "greatness of God's handiwork", and the moon "the poetic pale lamp of our nights and dreams."

"Pope Paul VI is speaking to you astronauts: Honour, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon."

Often caught peering at lunar landscapes through the telescope at the Vatican Observatory, Paul VI had always shown a special interest in space travel.

In the very first speech of his pontificate, he said that with the blessing of God, it had opened up new era for humanity, and on a later occasion he had given an astronaut a specially engraved bronze plaque to be laid on the surface of the moon, with the words from a Psalm: 'O Lord our God, how great your name throughout the earth.' In return, he was given a piece of the moon, which today is still kept at Castel Gandolfo.

Tags: Moon, Pope Paul VI, Astronauts, Neil Armstrong

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