Pope takes small step for Vat­i­can-Rus­sian ties

The Prince George Citizen - - AT HOME - Ni­cole WINFIELD

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis took a small step to­ward im­proved Vat­i­can-Rus­sian re­la­tions Thurs­day when he chat­ted with Rus­sian cos­mo­nauts and praised their un­der­stand­ing of love dur­ing a tele­phone call with the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

Ital­ian astro­naut Paolo Ne­spoli played trans­la­tor dur­ing the roughly 20-minute call that was in­ter­rupted once when the line dropped at the or­bit­ing lab­o­ra­tory.

Like a cu­ri­ous child, Fran­cis pep­pered Ne­spoli and the five other crew mem­bers with ques­tions as sim­ple as what they liked to do in space, what sur­prised them most, and what in­spired them to be­come as­tro­nauts.

The re­sponses he re­ceived, in par­tic­u­lar from Rus­sian cos­mo­nauts Alexan­der Misurkin and Sergey Ryazan­skiy, marked another small step for the Vat­i­can’s long tense re­la­tions with Ortho­dox Rus­sia. Fran­cis has made im­prov­ing those ties a pri­or­ity of his pon­tif­i­cate, and be­came the first pope in a mil­len­nium to meet with the Rus­sian Ortho­dox pa­tri­arch last year.

Ryazan­skiy told Fran­cis that he had been in­spired by his grand­fa­ther, a Soviet en­gi­neer who helped build Sput­nik, the world’s first ar­ti­fi­cial satel­lite that marked the be­gin­ning of the Space Age.

“For me it is a great hon­our to con­tinue what he was do­ing to ful­fil his dreams with a space flight, the fu­ture of all hu­man­ity,” he told the pope in English.

Fran­cis, who has long ex­alted the role of grand­par­ents, mar­veled at his re­sponse. “That’s our strength: never for­get roots. It does me good to hear this. Thank you,” Fran­cis said.

Fran­cis also praised Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Misurkin: Fran­cis had asked how the crew mem­bers un­der­stood Dante’s verse that love is the force that moves the uni­verse.

Misurkin told him in Rus­sian, trans­lated by Ne­spoli, that he had been read­ing An­toine de St. Ex­u­pery’s The Lit­tle Prince while in space and was taken by the main char­ac­ter’s un­der­stand­ing of love.

“Love is the force that gives you strength to give your life for some­one else,” he told the pope.

Fran­cis lit up at his re­sponse, say­ing “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.”

It was the sec­ond pa­pal phone call to space: Pope Bene­dict XVI rang the space sta­tion in 2011, and asked about the fu­ture of the planet and the en­vi­ron­men­tal risks it faced.


Pope Fran­cis con­nects from the Vat­i­can on Thurs­day to the crew aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

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