Pope meets astronauts from Endeavour, space station

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke to a group of astronauts when they were in outer space, had a close encounter with them back on Earth.

The pope welcomed crew members from the International Space Station and the space shuttle Endeavour to the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo Sept. 19. The crew members, who included two Italians, are on a speaking tour of Italy.

During their visit with the pope, the astronauts gave back to him a silver medallion that he had given them to carry to the space station orbiting the earth.

Pope Benedict had spoken to the astronauts May 21 during a video hookup with the space station.

Roberto Vittori, an Italian member of the Endeavour team, had let the medallion float weightless in front of the screen for the pope to see. The medallion bore an incision duplicating the scene of the creation of man from Michelangelo’s famous fresco in the Sistine Chapel.

The nine astronauts who met the pope also gave him an atlas of the universe and a framed memento to hang on the wall containing a Vatican flag, the NASA logo and a photograph of the space shuttle.

The U.S. astronauts meeting the pope were: Catherine Coleman, Mark Kelly, Gregory H. Johnson, Edward Michael Finke, Andrew J. Feustel, Gregory E. Chamitoff and Scott Kelly.