6 November 2009

 

WELCOME TO THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Inauguration of the study week on Astrobiology
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo
6 November 2009

It is with great pleasure that I welcome all the distinguished scientists convened here, at the invitation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, to discuss a theme that is as new as it is difficult and fascinating: Astrobiology. It is a field which requires a range of all but the most profound of scientific knowledge, as well as highly refined research techniques.

Because it means often proceeding on the basis of scarce evidence and formulating hypothesis requiring strict verification, which in turn, can be diversely configured. It means resorting to results of research based on extreme aspects of possibility of life on earth, and to study how to verify its presence on other planets or exoplanets. It means – at its limit - studying if and how one could verify the existence of extraterrestrial forms of intelligence and how to enter in contact with them. This is a task that demands scientific integrity, not to be confused with science fiction.

In your study, which represents, I would say, an intense and indispensable case of a vast multi-disciplinary research, I don’t doubt that you will find yourself accompanied and stimulated by that human atmosphere of collegiality and friendship offered by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In research we should not fear the truth. Only the error, which lies in ambush, can cause us fear. But the scientist must also be allowed the possibility to walk paths which do not always lead to positive results, otherwise it would not be research. Nonetheless, even such types of errors are never useless, precisely because, being led by the scientific method, they help us test other paths. And it is thus that the sciences are able to progress, and just as they open humanity to new knowledge, they contribute to the fulfilment of man as man.

Illustrious Ladies and Gentlemen, at the beginning of your week of study, I am very glad to bring you all a cordial welcome, the wishes for a successful collaboration, and the Blessing of the Holy Father.

Unfortunately, I am not able to participate personally in your lectures and discussions as I would certainly like, not for any competence I have in the field but merely to open myself to new horizons of knowledge. However, to accompany you on behalf of the Vatican, will be our scientists from the Vatican Observatory guided by their director Jesuit Father José Gabriel Funes.

We will see each other again in Assisi, as scheduled in the programme prepared by His Excellency Monsignor Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, whom I want to thank for his renowned and always cordial hospitality.

I hope you will remember these days as rich in intellectual gratification and benevolent friendship among your scientific colleagues. I wish you very fruitful work.