Vatican launches astronomy class for parish educators

Br. Guy Consolmagno speaks with CNA on Nov. 22 2013 at the Vatican Observatory in Rome Credit: Marco Gandolfo/CNA

The Vatican’s Observatory has announced that for the first time it will be hosting a workshop analyzing the relationship of faith and astronomy for parish educators, which is slated to take place next spring.

“We had done something similar to this only for bishops, held in Rome back in 1990. After nearly 25 years it was certainly time to try it again!” Br. Guy Consolmagno stated in comments made to CNA on March 24.

Br. Guy Consolmagno SJ is an American research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, which is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See.

Having received a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in planetary science, the religious brother entered the Society of Jesus in 1989 and currently serves as curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection.

Referring to the four-day workshop, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, entitled “What can modern astronomy tell us about creation – and its Creator?” Br. Consolmagno explained that originally “the idea of a faith-astronomy workshop for parish educators didn't come from us.”

Instead, “it came, out of the blue,” he recalled, “from a diocesan priest in Wisconsin who wrote to us last fall with the idea.”

Having discussed the idea with the Vatican Observatory’s director, Fr. José Gabriel Funes, S.J., Br. Guy noted that he was “very enthusiastic,” adding that they have also received “great support from the Diocese of Tucson.”

Taking place the week of January 19 -23, 2015, at the Redemptorist Retreat Center in Tucson, Arizona, the course is designed to give those who work in Catholic parishes an updated vision of what is happening in the universe, and will touch on topics ranging from the Big Bang, to the search for life in the universe, to our exploration of the planets.

Designed for those who educate in Catholic parishes, the workshop is targeted towards priests and deacons, science teachers in parochial schools, and educators in CCD and RCIA programs, and will include lectures, lab exercises, and field trips to numerous astronomical sites in the Tucson area.

Expressing their desires for the outcome of the workshop, Br. Consolmagno stated that “Our hope is that this can become an annual event,” but that this depends on the response to this first offering.”

“We also hope that donors to the Vatican Observatory Foundation can come forward to help provide scholarships, allowing priests with limited resources to be able to come and take part,” he noted.

“Beyond that” added the religious brother, “we hope that the people who come here will then take what they've experienced and learned, and spread it around their own parishes. That's why we are specifically inviting people involved in education programs in the parishes.”

The fee to attend the workshop is $750 per person, and includes four nights at the Redemptorist Retreat Center, transportation and admission fees for the field trips, and assorted books and other materials that the participants can take back with them to their home parishes.

With enough space for 25 people, the workshop sessions will be given by the Jesuit priests and brothers who work at the Vatican’s astronomical observatory in Tucson, which is home to the Vatican Observatory Research Group and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.

Speaking of the importance of such an event in the Church, Br. Consolmagno explained that “too many Catholics don't appreciate that science is part of our patrimony.”

“Science was invented at the universities, which were founded by the Church. And science is only possible because we believe in a God who is transcendent – not a nature god – and who deliberately created this universe out of love,” he observed.

“If the physical world is an expression of God's love, studying it with science is a way of coming closer and more intimate with its Creator.”


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