25 May 2000

Holy Father,

Coming from the land which gave birth to Nicolas Copernicus, You have engaged in a process of reconciliation between the world of Science and the world of Religion. Some of the many important contributions You have given to this process are: 

* The conclusion, in Your solemn address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1988 of the Galilei controversy which for centuries had marred the relationship between the scientific world and the Church.

* As a fitting consequence of this, the opening-up of the secret archives to all interested scholars.

* The recognition of the theory of evolution, and the acknowledgement that the recent discoveries in molecular biology represent an "impressive manifestation of the unity of nature" (Co-88).

In re-establishing a discourse between the world of science and that of religion, Your aim goes beyond mere reconciliation, it delineates a process towards a new unity. In your letter to the Director of the Vatican Observatory, in 1988, you clearly define the scope of this process: 
"As dialogue and common searching continue, there will be growth towards mutual understanding and a gradual uncovering of common concerns which will provide the basis for further research and discussion.... Each discipline should continue to enrich, nourish and challenge the other to be more fully what it can be and to contribute to our vision of who we are and of who we are becoming".

As the focal point for the meeting of science and religion You thus pose the sapiential dimension, which in the Encyclical Letter "Fides et Ratio" You define as "a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life". To this You add:  "This sapiential dimension is all the more necessary today, because the immense expansion of humanity's technical capability demands a renewed and sharpened sense of ultimate values". In the conclusion to the Encyclical You urge scientists "to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person".

The science driven advancement of technical capabilities poses ethical problems, which can only be clarified through an intense and open dialogue between science and religion. This is certainly true of the new methods for the modification of living beings, with their promise of improved cures for many diseases, but which may in some cases endanger the integrity of the human person.

Other ethical problems are of a more global nature, threats to the well-being of entire populations and of humanity as a whole. Ethical problems of this scale, be it those arising from nuclear weapons or from possible alterations in the natural balance of the environment, require decisions at the level of national and international public policy, and on these themes You have generously offered your advice and the authority of Your voice.

The rapid advance of scientific knowledge and technical capabilities poses a problem of justice and equity. Most of the scientific knowledge is produced in the rich counties, and it is these counties which most enjoy the economic fruits of the new technologies. The gulf between rich and poor widens, and the poor become more and more dependent on the rich for their basic necessities. The problem is wider than science, and You have even recently raised Your voice against this injustice. The poor contries must become able to contribute the advancement of scientific knowledge and to partake equitably in the fruits of progress.

Holy Father,

We are deeply grateful for this great occasion to celebrate in Your presence the Jubilee for men and women from the world of learning. This ceremony and Your words will remain forever in our memory. For this and for your work and guidance we are grateful.

Thank you.