Fact joins hands with faith in Rome

June 2, 2000

Research can add to the glory of God, is the pope's message to scientists. Paul Bompard reports.

Surrounded by the baroque magnificence of St Peter's Basilica, Pope John Paul II received 2,500 scientists last week from all over the world in what was hailed as the "Jubilee of Scientists".

This was one of the almost daily events in the Catholic church's millennium celebrations. The day before, the pope had received delegations of street cleaners and former prostitutes.

"In past centuries," said the pope, "science has sometimes been the only criterion of truth and the path to happiness. It refused to consider the existence of God... at times it believed that God was simply a construction of the mind, incapable of resisting scientific knowledge."

The scientists included representatives of national scientific academies and societies, from countries such as the Philippines and New Zealand. Almost all were Catholics and before the mass that preceded the papal audience they sang religious litanies while filing through the Holy Door of St Peter's.

Among those present was Hanna Suchocka, Poland's justice minister and former prime minister, who taught constitutional law at Poznan University. During the audience, the scientists presented the pope with a telescope.

The pope noted: "The church has great esteem for scientific and technical research, since it is a meaningful expression of man's sovereignty over creation and a service to truth, to goodness and to beauty... the history of the church and the history of science show clearly that there is a scientific culture rooted in Christianity. One can say that research, by exploring that which is greater and that which is smaller, contributes to the glory of God."

But on a sterner note, the Polish pope warned that "every scientific approach requires an ethical foundation, an opening towards a culture that is respectful of human needs... Men and women in the trenches of research and progress, as you constantly delve into the mysteries of the world, leave your spirits open to the horizons that are offered to you by faith."

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