Vatican Observatory launches mission to show Church and science can coexist

By Hannah Brockhaus/Catholic News Agency

The Vatican’s astronomical observatory has launched a new website as part of its mission to show the world the Catholic Church’s support of science and scientific research.

Together with the website, which has hundreds of resources on faith and science, the Vatican Observatory has also started a podcast to explore “the wonder of God’s universe” with Vatican astronomers and expert guests.

Jesuit Br. Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, told CNA in an email interview that the old website “was hardly ever visited.”

“The mission of the Vatican Observatory, articulated by Pope Leo XIII back in 1891, is to show the world that the Church supports science. And while we’ve done a pretty good job of doing the science, I know we’ve been less successful at ‘showing the world,’” Consolmagno said.

With roots dating back to 1582, the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest active astronomical observatories in the world.

The headquarters are in Castel Gandolfo, a town just outside Rome and the location of the summer residence of the popes. A dozen priests and brothers live and study there.

The Vatican Observatory also has a research group at the University of Arizona, where in partnership with the university, the observatory constructed the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mount Graham. It began operation in 1993.

Consolmagno said the new website had been in the works for well over a year, and after receiving a grant at the beginning of summer 2020, “we’ve been working pretty much full time on the site.”

The astronomer said that when he meets people he frequently hears that they did not know the Vatican had an observatory.

“The message we have for the general public can be quite detailed,” he said, referencing the website’s Faith and Science resource center.

“But frankly, the mere awareness that we exist, a modern astronomical observatory supported by the Vatican (and by donations to our Foundation), says everything essential that needs saying.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash