Pope Francis became the second Pope to make a phone call to space Thursday, discussing life’s meaning with astronauts on the International Space Station.
Francis spoke with European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and the rest of the Expedition 53 crew, comprised of Russian and American cosmonauts, for about 20 minutes, according to ABC News. The pontiff and the Expedition 53 team discussed topics ranging from the team members’ personal inspirations for becoming astronauts to how their vantage point of Earth from the station influenced their view of humankind’s origins and destiny.
“In light of your experiences in space, what are your thoughts regarding the place of man in the universe?” Francis asked at the beginning of the call.
Nespoli responded that, as an engineer, the topic of humankind’s ultimate place in the universe perplexed him, since the mission of Expedition 53 is to gain knowledge and understanding and “the more we know, the more we realize how little we know.”
“I would like people like you, theologians, philosophers, poets, writers, to come to space to explore what it means to be a human in space,” Nespoli said.
U.S. astronaut and mission commander Randy Bresnik, who served in U.S. Marine flying combat missions in Iraq, said that humanity’s future looked brighter from their perspective on the station, as from space there are “no borders, there is no conflict, it’s just peaceful.”
“What gives me the greatest joy is to look outside every day and see God’s creation — maybe a little bit from his perspective,” Bresnik added.
Francis also spoke with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryazanskiy and Alexander Misurkin, furthering the improvement of Vatican relations with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Francis began making headway in repairing the long-held tensions between Russia and the Vatican in 2016 when he visited the Russian Orthodox patriarch, becoming the first Pope in a millennium to do so. Misurkin in particular dialogued with Francis about the concept of love being the driving force of the universe, referencing the book ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de St. Exupery.
“Love is the force that gives you strength to give your life for someone else,” Misurkin told Francis.
“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 responded.
Francis’s call to the ISS is the second such call from a pope in history, with Benedict XVI’s call to the ISS in 2011 being the first. Nespoli was on his second mission at the ISS during when Benedict XVI called, and said he was glad to have the opportunity to speak with another pontiff during this mission. The experience with Francis, according to Nespoli, lifted the astronauts’ perspective of life on Earth even more.
“You brought us higher up,” Nespoli said. “You took us away from the daily of things and made us think about things that are bigger than us.”
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