Pope Benedict XVI
From the Vatican Information service:


VATICAN CITY, 21 MAY 2011 (VIS) – This Saturday, Benedict XVI held a
conversation with the group of cosmonauts and astronauts aboard the
International Space Station, on the occasion of the space shuttle
Endeavour’s last mission.

From a room in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace the Pope could see the
astronauts on a television screen while they could only hear his voice on an
audio channel.

During the conversation, the Holy Father asked the astronauts five
questions. The first: “When you are contemplating the Earth from up there,
do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here,
or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?”.

Mark Kelly
United States astronaut Mark Kelly answered that, from space, you cannot
see the borders between the nations, but “we realize that people fight with
each other and there is a lot of violence in this world … The science and
the technology that we put into the Space Station to develop a solar power
capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those
technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some
of that violence”.

While emphasizing “the responsibility we all have towards the future of
our planet”, the Pope asked how the astronauts see Earth’s situation from
their “extraordinary observation point?”.

International Space Station
United States astronaut Ron Garan answered that, “we can see how
indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the
other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is”.

Benedict XVI asked if, “in the midst of your intense work and research”,
the astronauts ever stop and reflect on the mystery of creation – perhaps
even to say a prayer to the Creator? The Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori,
who before leaving for space had received a medal from Benedict XVI
representing the Creation of Man as painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine
Chapel ceiling, responded. On seeing the beauty of the planet, he said, “I
do pray: I do pray for me, for our families, for our future”.

The Pope addressed his fifth and final question to the Italian astronaut
Paolo Nespoli, assuring him of his prayers for the astronaut’s recently
deceased mother and asking him how he was living through this time of
sorrow; if on the station he felt “far away and isolated, if you suffer a
sense of separation or if you feel united to and included in a community
that accompanies you with care and affection?”.

Thanking the pontiff for his prayers on the death of his mother, Nespoli
agreed that, being outside the world, “we have a vantage point to see the
Earth and to feel everything around us”.

The Holy Father concluded the conversation by thanking them for “this
wonderful opportunity to meet and dialogue with you. You have helped me and
many other people to reflect together on important issues that regard the
future of humanity. I wish you the very best for your work and for the
success of your great mission at the service of science, international
collaboration, authentic progress, and for peace in the world”.

Last month, our extended family had a wonderful vacation at the Chautauqua Institution, in Chautauqua, NY (upstate, western NY state). Highlights of the week were lectures by Professor Donald Johanson (pictured below signing my copy of Lucy’s Legacy), as well as:

Lucy's Legacy

Dr. Johanson

Dr. Johanson signing my copy of Lucy's Legacy

We rented a house on the grounds, and spent a week enjoying lectures, concerts, beautiful weather, and wonderful grounds. It’s like a really nice small town, gated. It’s a very family-friendly environment, and there is nice beach on the lake.

The Catholic House sponsored a couple of excellent lectures as well, and Mass was offered daily. Did I mention the weather was wonderful? We’ll be going back next year; I can see why people go back to Chautauqua religiously (no pun intended :) ).

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

More pictures are on the Picture page (Chautauqua)

At today’s Mass during his homily Fr. Jim quoted a poem by John Updike (1932-2009) that I had not heard before but found quite moving:

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

The Vatican press office today had a presentation on an upcoming conference, “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A critical appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species'”. The event is due to take place in Rome from March 3 to 7, 2009. The congress has been jointly organized by the Pontifical Gregorian
University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, U.S.A., under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Saverio Forestiero, professor of zoology at Rome’s Torvergata University and a member of the organizing committee stated (emphasis mine):

“It is my view … that this congress represents an opportunity, neither propagandistic nor apologetic, for scientists, philosophers and theologians to meet and discuss the fundamental questions raised by biological evolution – which is assumed and discussed as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt – in order to examine its manifestations and causal mechanisms, and to analyse the impact and quality of the explanatory theories thus far proposed”.

and Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross said (again, emphasis mine):

from the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive. … None of the evolutionary mechanisms opposes the affirmation that God wanted – in other words, created – man. Neither is this opposed by the casual nature of the many events that happened during the slow development of life, as long as the recourse to chance remains a simple scientific reading of phenomena”.

From the conference website:

Thanks to recent discoveries, we can reconsider the problem of evolution within a broader perspective then traditional neo-darwinism. In particular, we refer to the role of epigenetical mechanisms in evolution as well as to new developments produced by the theory of complexity and by the study of incidence on the environment of living species, especially in regards to the value and significance of intelligent behaviour. In this context, which witnesses the intertwining of several fields of knowledge, an appropriate consideration is needed more than ever before.

The conference is organized into sections which will first present those facts that are known, then expand on the scientific theories that try to explain evolutionary mechanisms, on humanization, on philosophical questions and finally on the theological issues about Evolution.

I can’t make the conference, but I am definitely looking forward to the proceedings when they are published.

Ok, it’s rare that I make movie recommendations because people’s tastes vary. However, I have to make an exception: The movie “Fireproof” is wonderful. Went today with my two older boys. I didn’t tell either it was a Christian movie – just that it was about a fireman and that the scenes I saw involved pulling people out of burning buildings or moving cars out of the way of trains (all true).

It’s about a couple (the man is a firefighter) who are going through a tough time in their marriage, and how he tries to get back together – with God’s help. Wonderfully done; I didn’t find it “preachey” or over-the top. I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear in front of my kids before; I told them I had allergies (they didn’t buy it and are still ribbing me). What got me is that my oldest son’s only comment was “I liked it – but I didn’t cry I held it in”. High praise from a 13-year old.

Made my top ten list.


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