Pope Francis loves flooring the audience. He did so on many occasions, especially during his flights, sometimes from the pulpit. During his homily at Santa Marta, a few weeks ago, his irony caused a series of comments, considerations, opinions…”For example, if Martians came to meet us – said Pope Francis – well…Martians, you know? Those green beings with long nose and big ears, as they are described to children…And if one of them said: ‘I want to be baptised!’, what would happen then? Who are we to shut the door upon them? The Church must be courageous and friendly to everyone: to divorced people, to the children of gay couples, and also to aliens.”
The theme “life in space” has always been at the centre of the debate on the uniqueness of the human being, a subject that has been renewed after the announcement of the retirement of the Hubble Telescope, waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope to become operative (its launch is scheduled for the 2018).
The Holy Father saying those words was not talking about aliens in the strict sense. Actually, he was saying that the Church must be open-minded to everything considered different, extraneous. Nevertheless, according to Pablo Ayo, researcher and teacher of computer science, it is unlikely that the Pope speaks at random. In fact, it is no coincidence that the Vatican owns the VATT (Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope), which from the Mount Graham in Arizona constantly observes the space in both optical and infrared range. It is one of the biggest telescopes in the world, the younger of two identical telescopes – according to some indiscretions never confirmed – the second being more powerful and secret, constantly looking for planets similar to the Earth.
What is certain is that the planets similar to the Earth in our galaxy could be 50 billion. Go figure how many there are in the whole universe. Moreover, this is true only if we think of life as we know it – a carbon-based life; if we assumed other forms of existence, the growth of probability would be unimaginable. Just last year, NASA and the Library of Congress of the United States organized a conference with astronomers, philosophers, theologians and physicists. The name of the event was prophetic: “Be prepared to the discovery.” The heart of the matter is not “if” we will ever be in contact with other intelligent forms of life, but “when”.
Actually, also the Church nolonger holds firm the positions that in 1600 sent to the stake the former Dominican friar Giordano Bruno. And this is a slap to the ones considering the Vatican as clammed up in its unchanging and eternal positions.
Already in 1992, Father George Coyne, the director of the Vatican Observatory, the center of astronomical studies of the Holy See, announced the collaboration with NASA to look for other forms of life in space. And he too, talking about the baptism of any extraterrestrial being, said: “Why not? It would not be egocentric thinking that we humans are the only intelligent beings living in the universe?” Position confirmed by his successor, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, as well as by the distinguished astrophysicist father Guy Consolmagno. All these religious people have one thing in common with the Pope – they are Jesuits.
Obviously no one has evidence of the existence of alien beings, but the Catholic doctrine sees God as the creator of the universe as a whole, not only of the tiny universal portion constituted by the third planet orbiting around the sun. This is why the ‘only way is to welcome with open arms. Each entity – said father Consolmagno – no matter how many tentacles it has, could have a soul.”
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo