The cold-call pope is setting his sights set heavenward by ringing astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Pope Francis' hookup Thursday marks the second papal phone call to space: Pope Benedict XVI rang the space station in 2011 and peppered its residents with questions about the future of the planet and the environmental risks it faced.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli was aboard the orbiting lab for that call and will be on hand to chat with Francis, who considered a career in chemistry before becoming a priest.
International Space Station Commander Randy Bresnik has told Pope Francis that his greatest joy working on the orbiting lab is being able to "see God's creation may be a little bit from his perspective."
Francis and Bresnik spoke on Thursday during a phone call between the Vatican and six crew members currently in the space station. The pope asked the crew — three Americans, two Russians and an Italian — what gives them the most joy in their work.
Bresnik, a US Marine who flew combat missions during the Iraq war, said what strikes him is that in space there are "no borders, there is no conflict, it's just peaceful." The astronaut said: "People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of our Earth and not be touched in their souls." He added: "You see the thinness of the atmosphere, it makes you realise how fragile our existence here is."
Pope Francis has praised Russia's "humanistic and religious" understanding of the power of love, during a phone call with Russian, American and Italian crew members of the International Space Station. During the Thursday hookup, Francis asked the crew how they understand Dante's verse that love is the force that moves the universe.
Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin replied by noting that he had been reading St. Exupery's "The Little Prince" while in space and was taken by the child's understanding of love. He told Francis "Love is the force that gives you strength to give your life for someone else."
Francis praised his response, saying "It's clear you have understood the message that St. Exupery so poetically explained and that you Russians have in your blood, in your humanistic and religious tradition."
Francis' papacy has been marked by his concern for the environment, as well as his firm belief in the compatibility of faith and science. It was a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Georges Lemaitre, who first hypothesized the Big Bang theory in 1927....