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How the Catholic Herald reported the moon landing

The cover of the July 25, 1969 edition of the Catholic Herald

Fifty years ago, man landed on the moon. The Herald, then still a newspaper, had a very Catholic angle on the story

Pope Paul gave a warning this week that the “prophetic” Moon landing must not be allowed to obscure the crises of war and poverty still afflicting the world.

He told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo villa that the spaceflight was “a triumph of man’s ability to dominate the universe.” But he added: “We must not forget man’s need and duty to dominate himself.”

Three conflicts were still raging—in Vietnam, Nigeria and the Middle East—and a fourth had broken out between El Salvador and Honduras. “Hunger still afflicts entire populations. What would be the true progress of man if these misfortunes persisted and worsened?”

A photocopied message in the Pope’s own hand, together with a small Papal flag, were among the items left on the Moon by the crew of the Eagle module.

Psalm on parchment

Pope Paul had sent a parchment. bearing the Latin text of Psalm VIII and his own words underneath, to Archbishop Luigi Raimondo, Apostolic Delegate in Washington. The Delegate passed it on to Dr. Thomas Paine, director of the U.S. space programme, when he attended the Apollo launching as a guest of the U.S. Government. Psalm VIII begins: “O Lord. our Lord, how glorious is Your name over all the earth! You have exalted Your majesty above the heavens.” The Pope’s inscription translates: “For the glory of the name of God. who gives men such power. We pray for this wondrous endeavour and wish it well.— Pope Paul VI, A.D. 1969.”

The Pope also told the Sunday pilgrims that the universe was “opening before its its mute, mysterious face, framed by innumerable centurie.s and unmeasured spaces.”

On the other hand, he added. “the admiration. the enthusiasm, the passion for instruments, for the products of man’s ingenuity and craft, fascinates us, perhaps. even to the point of madness. Here lies the danger. From this possible worship of instruments we must guard ourselves. “It is absolutely necessary that the heart of man should become freer. better, more religious as the power of his machines, his weapons and his instruments becomes greater and more dangerous,” His hope was that progress. “of which we are celebrating a sublime victory today, can be directed towards the true good temporal and moral—of humanity. That is what we pray for.”

Salute on TV

Minutes before the Moon landing that same night, Pope Paul went to the Vatican Observatory near his summer home to look at the Moon through a giant telescope, returning home in time to hear Neil Armstrong’s televised words: “The Eagle has landed.” A few minutes later, the Pope himself. in a pre-recorded message. appeared on Italian and U.S. television to salute the astronauts as the “conquerors of the Moon.”

“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will,” he began. “Glory to God, and honour to you (the astronauts), honour to all who have made this daring flight possible.

“Honour, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the Moon, pale light of our nights and our dreams. Carry to it, with your lively presence, the voice of the spirit, the hymn to God our creator and father. We are near you with our pledges and prayers. Pope Paul VI, in the name of the whole Catholic Church, salutes you.” One of the men who walked on the Moon, Col. Edwin Aldrin, who is a Presbyterian, took with him a Communion wafer which he consumed on the lunar surface to symbolise fellowship with the congregation of his home church at Houston, Texas.

Family at Mass

Meanwhile, Mrs. Michael Collins, wife of the man who remained in charge of the command module, took her children to Mass in St. Paul’s Catholic Church at Houston, where all the day’s Masses were offered for the astronauts and the success of their mission. President Nixon attended a religious service in the White House which included a reading by former astronaut Col. Borman of the first ten verses of Genesis, the passage he had read while the Apollo 8 mission which he commanded circled the Moon on Christmas Eve.

The U.S. Space Director, Dr. Paine, in an interview beamed to BBC’s Panorama on Monday night, referred to the Pope’s prayer that the Apollo project would serve humanity and not master it. Dr. Paine described these thoughts as “very fine.”