50 Years After First Landing, Vatican Remembers ‘Conquerors of the Moon’

Tags: Currents Faith, Inspiration, International, National News, Pope Paul VI, World News

Currents News Staff

On July 20, 1969, the whole world watched as American astronaut Neil Armstrong took his famous ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Now, 50 years later, the Vatican still remembers that awe-filled day.

On the day the first man stepped foot on the moon, like many world leaders, Pope Paul VI watched and cheered on NASA astronauts, but did so from the Vatican’s Observatory. Scientists and philosophers still study there today.

[Related: Vice Director of the Vatican Observatory: Space Travel Has ‘Freed’ Humanity’s Imagination]

“On the day the first moon landing, Pope Paul VI came to one of the telescopes at the Vatican Observatory at Castro Gandolfo,” explained Paul Mueller of the Vatican Observatory. 

“Using the dome of the Space Telescope, he looked at the moon. Then he watched the TV coverage of the landing. Once they knew the astronauts had landed safely, he made a televised address to Italy. Then he actually sent a message to the astronauts, a greeting,” Mueller explained.

Pope Paul VI’s greeting was from Psalm 8, praising God for the “conquerors of the Moon.”

While the pontiff thought of them, the astronauts thought of the Vatican, bringing its flag with them along with the U.S. flag. The evidence is still on display at the Vatican, along with a bit of moon rock they brought back. 

“Both science and the Catholic Church, they’re on the same team,” said Mueller.

“They’re in search of truth; just different ways of getting at the truth. So I think ultimately it comes down to that: the Church is on the side of whoever is seeking the truth.” 

This mission for finding the truth also led to another Catholic value, universal unity. Despite differences, every world leader was rooting for the astronauts all together in one common global project: to reach the moon.

As President Richard Nixon once said, “For one priceless moment, in the history of man, all the people on this earth are truly one.”

While there is much to still be explored, the memory of unity, hope and amazement from 50 years ago is still present at the Vatican, supporting what Pope Paul VI said in his address to the astronauts and the “wide expanse of boundless space and new destinies.”