La Crosse priest attends first "Faith and Astronomy Workshop" at Vatican Observatory in Tuscon
|Michigan-raised Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno|
TUSCON – Under clear skies just north of Tucson, amid temperatures that felt more like late spring than winter, I had the privilege of joining 24 priests and lay people to participate in the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop, hosted by the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
This brief, four day workshop was a mix of lecture, discussion, hands on science, and field trips to help parish educators and pastors learn how to address the relationship of faith and science with the people they serve.
The event was led by astronomer and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ.
Since 1993, Brother Guy has worked at the Vatican Observatory as researcher, curator of meteorites, and author of numerous books and articles.
The American Astronomical Society recently awarded Brother Guy the prestigious Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communications as a working planetary scientist.
Joining Brother Guy were a number of local scientists and friends of the foundation who presented on subjects ranging from the ancient understanding of the universe to critiquing the "new atheists."
The breadth of subjects combined with daily visits to active and future space missions provided an eye opening look at the current state of astronomy and the importance of the Vatican Observatory’s presence in the science community.
One of the memorable themes of the workshop was given by Vatican Scientist Father Paul Gabor, SJ, during his homily at daily Mass.
Father Gabor explained that the lesson science teaches us is that the world is rational and able to be understood. This intelligibility of the universe is an invitation from the world’s Creator. This invitation shows us that God wants us to understand Him through studying His creation. Therefore, we do not have a God of deception and confusion, but rather a God of love who makes Himself accessible and known through His creation.
This meditation became the interpretive lens that helped me unify the entire workshop and clearly understand the true relationship between faith and science: Faith and science are complementary explorations of truth and, presuming adherence to moral laws, cannot be in conflict with one another since truth cannot contract truth, (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159).
On the final evening of the workshop, Brother Guy asked me to preside and preach the homily for the closing Mass under the night sky. The reason I was approached was because of my role in the development of the conference.
Shortly after my ordination, I emailed Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory at that time, asking if the observatory offered retreats or conferences on the subject of faith and science for people who do not work professionally in science. His polite response stated that the observatory did not have such a program, but that I should check back in the future.
Ten years rolled by before I did check back. This time around, I contacted Brother Guy. Again, I was informed that there wasn't such a program, but Brother Guy wanted to take the idea to the director, Father Jose Funes, SJ, for consideration.
In short, the idea was embraced and the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop began to take form.
At the conclusion of the workshop, it was decided that this event would happen again with the hope of it becoming an annual event for the Vatican Observatory Foundation. The next workshop will be held Jan. 11, 2016.
For those who desire to explore the question of faith and science, there is now a blog called "The Catholic Astronomer" allowing access to astronomers who desire to reach the general public to explore astronomy and its relationship with the Catholic faith. (There is a monthly donation to have full access to this blog). I invite anyone interested to check out this wonderful resource at http://www.vofoundation.org/blog/.
The Faith and Astronomy Workshop was a memorable event that I will cherish for the rest of my priesthood. It is consoling to see that, in light of the advances in science that loom just around the corner, the Vatican Observatory is developing new programs to make the work they do more accessible to the non-scientist.
In the process, they are helping us to be more literate about one of the hottest topics in the Church: the relationship between faith and science.
Please pray for the ongoing work of the Vatican Observatory and may their work help remind us that the Church supports true science.