Monday, September 21, 2015

A visitor from the Vatican: having a conversation with Pope Francis

So someone from the Holy See reads my blog — do you suppose it's the Pope?  I'm sure it's not (because even though the Pope is in Cuba, there are still visitors from the Vatican in my summary of blog stats this morning), but it is fun to find all these visits from the Vatican in the midst of Philly Pope fever.  For weeks now, our local news radio station has been prefacing news about the upcoming visit with the tag "A Visitor From the Vatican" (you can practically hear the uppercase!).

Earlier this summer, AL DÍA's managing editor asked me if I would write an imagined conversation between two scientists:  myself and Pope Francis.  In Spanish and in English.  Fiction. Dialog.  A language I haven't written more than a paragraph in since 1980. (Which in my mind isn't all that long ago, but math.  That's 35 years.)  Really?  What was I thinking?
Any panic over language or narrative form was quickly eclipsed by the realization that I was going to put words in the mouth of a living Pope. I read and listened to everything Pope Francis had said or written about science that I could find in English and in Spanish (and even a bit of Italian). (Thank you, Holy See web masters!) I re-read his interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J.  I prayed.  I did.

Where would I run into the Pope where we would have time to talk?  Certainly not on the streets of Philly during this visit!  After watching his address to young astronomers at the Vatican Observatory's Summer School, it occurred to me that of all places, the Observatory would be the most likely for this unlikeliest of encounters.  Next year the theme is water — I could almost imagine going.

So I wrote of encountering Pope Francis in the gardens, out for a walk. We talked about that infamous line suggesting "the Pope should leave science to the scientists," and whether scientists are mystics and about Catholic women who were also professors of physics and chemistry (do you know about Laura Bassi?)  I wrote it in English, I worked on the Spanish version, then rewrote the English, trying to capture the rhythm and power of the Pope's Spanish in my first language.

A gentle friend waded through my rusty and tense-impaired Spanish (which an editor at AL DÍA nicely cleaned up) and off it went, to come out in the beautiful special issue put out for the Pope's visit.

Funnily, I almost feel as if I really have had a conversation with Pope Francis about science and faith.

You can read the interview here in English or here in Spanish.

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