In 2018 I participated in a training program in Rome designed to give a group of Catholic journalists an opportunity to learn how various Vatican institutions operate. As part of that program we traveled one Saturday to Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat about an hour’s drive outside the Eternal City. There, we climbed up to the roof to visit the Vatican Observatory, where two telescopes point skyward, affording an expansive view of the skies above.
We then attended a lecture, where we learned from a pair of Vatican astronomers that the Church has long had a great interest in the heavens. Following a very informative presentation — where we also learned that the Vatican Observatory also operates a telescope in the U.S. state of Arizona — the journalists were encouraged to ask any questions we had. The lead astronomer, a Jesuit priest, was asked if he thought it possible that there could be other intelligent life in the universe. Without missing a beat, he responded that the universe is too big and it would take too long to get there if it does exist somewhere.
This week, NASA successfully landed its most advanced rover yet, in an alluvial plain on the surface of Mars, with a mission to discover if life has ever existed there. As the rover descended to the surface, a variety of engineers from all walks of life waited anxiously at the edge of their seats in Mission Control. They had done everything they could to get the spacecraft to the top of the Martian atmosphere, and now all they could do was hope that it would land safely.
When word came that the spacecraft, aptly named the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, successfully reached the surface, the room erupted in cheers and congratulations all around. Despite coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, the engineers were able to unite to achieve a common goal for the benefit of humankind. The endeavor should serve as a lesson to us all about what we can accomplish when we come together for the common good.