By Cian Molloy - 22 July, 2019
As the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing by the crew of Apollo XI this weekend, Pope Francis people to work together for the greater good of humanity.
“Fifty years ago, man set foot on the moon, achieving an extraordinary dream,” said the Pope in his Angelus address on Saturday in St Peter’s Square. He said he hoped that memory of “that great step for humanity” might spark a desire to achieve even greater goals.
These goals, he said, comprised: “More dignity for the weak, more justice among peoples and more future for our common home.”
One of the side benefits of those first space missions in the 1960s was that the new perspective gained from leaving Earth’s orbit gave humans a new insight into just how fragile our blue planet is – a theme that is central to the current papacy and Pope Francis’s breakthrough encyclical Laudato Si’ – On care for our common home.
The Pope’s comments echoed those of his predecessor Saint Pope Paul VI who, like millions of people across the globe, watched the moon landings live on television. Calling on humankind not to lose sight of earthly affairs in the jubilation of reaching the moon, Paul VI said: “Hunger still afflicts entire populations. What would be the true progress of man if those misfortunes persist and worsen?”
Pope Paul VI sent a blessing to the three Apollo II astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, which began with: “Honour, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon.” He said that the moonwalk by the first two of the three men was recognition of “the greatness of God’s handiwork”.
Pope Paul VI was a keen amateur astronomer and regularly used a telescope at the Vatican’s observatory at Castel Gondolfo to view the moon, which he once described as “the poetic pale lamp of our nights and dreams”.
He gave the crew a bronze plaque, inscribed with words from Psalm 8, “O Lord our God, how great your name throughout the Earth.” In return, the three astronauts him a piece of moon rock, which is kept today in the observatory at Castel Gondolfo.