Joachim von Braun | PAS President

Address to Pope Francis

Dear Holy Father,

We are most grateful to You for welcoming us on the occasion of the Plenary Conference of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Today we have an historic audience with You, because of the following two reasons:

  1. Our esteemed and beloved former Chancellor, H.E. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo has just retired. Yesterday we recognized his tremendous achievements building the Academy for a quarter century with a special session on “Science in Philosophical and Religious Perspectives”.
  2. We warmly welcomed H.Em. Cardinal Peter Turkson as our new Chancellor. We are grateful to him for now serving the Academy, and grateful to you for this distinguished appointment, which demonstrates your esteem and support of our Academy.

I am pleased to inform you that today, we have eleven new members of the Academy to introduce to you, who are leaders in diverse fields of science from many different countries. We also gave the Pius XI medal to two distinguished of young scientists for their excellent research.

The members of the Academy consider it an honor to offer their precious time to your Academy. They do so because our Academy has an excellent reputation for commitment to scientific truth and its liberating benefits that are open to all people, especially those most in need. PAS also appeals to us because of the autonomy in research that you guard and respect, as well as the international composition of its membership and their excellence in scientific disciplines.

The Academy has an increasing reach and impact through You, especially on issues of climate, protection of human and planetary health, and equity, as demonstrated, inter alia, by the Encyclical Laudato Si’.

Our agenda at this Plenary conference was “Basic science for human development, peace, and planetary health”. Basic science is essential to improve human welfare, for example by means of improved medicine, food systems, and energy for the poor. Moreover, basic science offers deeper understanding, knowledge of causes and enables a wisdom that is able to respond to the challenges of our time.

We addressed topics at the frontiers of sciences in key areas that change world views and have the potentials to improve human development, peace, and planetary health. We discussed, for example,

  1.      Climate and atmospheric science and resilience of People and Ecosystems under Climate Stress
  2.      Reconstructing cities, incl. slums
  3.      Health of the oceans
  4.      Life Sciences and Medical science, on healing cancer, and regenerating cells
  5.      Covid-19 and actions to address the pandemics
  6.      Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence, using AI to accelerate scientific discovery
  7.      Astronomy, exploring how our Milky Way was formed.

The fact that important discoveries come about because of curiosity as a result of wonder and admiration of nature raises philosophical, ethical, religious, as well as policy questions. We also integrate philosophy and theology in our work, drawing for instance on Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and contemporary thinkers that we invite to our meetings. Marcelo has helped us a lot in that over the years, and we also hope to draw on his wisdom also in the future. Our workshop on “Symbols, Myths and Religious Sense” of early humans hundreds of thousands of years ago is an example.

Dear Holy Father,

Basic sciences are at risk of being marginalized or misused by the strong powers of the day. This is especially true when economic crises, wars, and growing risks trouble people, as is currently the case. Therefore, it is ever more important for science to have peace as a goal. A few months ago, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences did again call to attention to the threats of nuclear war, and wars against civilian populations. We also emphasize the fundamental drivers of conflicts: divisiveness, discord, hatred, greed, exploitation, human trafficking and racism, which undermine both peace and planetary health.

In order to address neglect of science-informed rational arguments, the Church can help the understanding of science, for instance through science education in school and university curricula.

We stress, that in view of the well-known powerful contributions of basic science, related knowledge and good practice need to be shared more widely, especially with low-income regions of the world. Otherwise the benefits for human development, peace, and planetary health will not come about. Our Academy therefore is also actively reaching out to scientists in Africa, Latin America and Asia and we are expanding our membership in these hemispheres.

Dear Holy Father,

Thank you for the most thoughtful statements with which you accompany our work, and encourage us. While promoting the freedom of scientific research, you also foster fruitful reflections among science and faith which are important for our work that aims at human development, peace, and planetary health.

We thank you for your prayers, and pray for you.

Best wishes and God bless you.