VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis reaffirmed the church’s commitment to dialogue with the world of science and asked that all men and women have greater access to scientific research and training.
“The hope that one day all people will be able to enjoy the benefits of science is one that spurs all of us on, scientists in particular,” he said June 26.
The pope was speaking to a group of 25 young astronomy students who were taking part in a month-long summer school sponsored by the Vatican Observatory. The summer program, held every two years, accepts a small group of promising university and post-graduate students, mostly from developing nations, who specialize in astronomical sciences.
During the private audience in the apostolic palace, the pope thanked the professors and benefactors who made the study program possible, saying it offered “an impressive example of dialogue and fruitful cooperation” among young people from so many different nations, traditions and cultures.
The summer school is a great way for young people to “engage in dialogue and collaboration, helping one another in the search for truth” as well as showcasing “how the sciences can be a fitting and effective means for promoting peace and justice,” the pope said.
“Here, too, we see a further reason for the church’s commitment to dialogue with the sciences on the basis of the light provided by faith: it is her conviction that faith is capable of both expanding and enriching the horizons of reason,” he said.
“In this dialogue, the church rejoices in the marvelous progress of science, seeing it as a sign of the enormous God-given potential of the human mind.”
He urged the future astronomers and astrophysicists to share everything they know about the universe with their fellow citizens. Not enough people have access to such knowledge, he said, “which opens the heart and the mind to the great questions which human beings have always asked: Where do we come from? Where are we going?”
The search for deeper meaning in life “can lead us to an encounter with the creator,” he said.
Each session of the monthlong summer school — held at the Vatican Observatory headquarters at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo — is dedicated to a different area of research in the astronomical sciences, and this year’s program focused on galaxies.
The Vatican organizers make sure each group of students is as culturally and geographically diverse as possible, with an emphasis on sponsoring young people from developing nations.
The students listen to daily lectures by visiting scholars and participate in evening seminars with the Vatican Observatory staff, who are all Jesuits and accomplished scientists.
The students also present papers on their own research or the research being done at their universities.
In an article in the Vatican newspaper, Jaco Mentz, a student from South Africa, said, “What has most amazed me has been to be able to meet so many people from different cultures, to make friends and possibly colleagues of all these different people.”
Juan Garavito from Colombia, said, “Science and friends can go together. In my home university there is basically only me and one other student working on these topics. It has been wonderful to find so many new friends here.”
David Chun Wai Lau of Hong Kong said, “As the youngest, I have had to work very hard to keep up with the content of the lectures. But it has just made me even more enthusiastic about being an astronomer.”
He also said he was struck by how things in Italy were so different from his home country. “I can’t get used to the traffic! In Hong Kong, the traffic follows the traffic lights!”
Since the first summer school was held in 1986, more than 350 students have taken part in the program. More than 85 percent continue today as professional astronomers, including some notable astronomers, according to Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a member of the Vatican Observatory staff.