VATICAN CITY (AP) — The cold-call pope is setting his sights heavenward by ringing astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Pope Francis' imminent hookup Thursday will mark the second papal phone call to space: Pope Benedict XVI rang the space station in 2011, and peppered its residents with questions about the future of the planet and the environmental risks it faced.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli was aboard the orbiting lab for that call and will be on hand to chat with Francis, who considered a career in chemistry before becoming a priest.
For his latest trip into space, Nespoli brought along an olive branch given to Francis to show the importance of caring for Mother Nature. He has filled his Twitter feed with remarkable images of Earth from his space-eye view, including one recent one of a smog-covered Italy.
Francis' papacy has been marked by his concern for the environment and the need to better care for God's Creation. It has also been marked by his frequent phone calls to unsuspecting nuns, priests and ordinary folk — a practice that has earned him the moniker of the "cold-call pope."
This call though has been a long-time in the making: The European Space Agency made the arrangements, with NASA's technical support.
Along with Nespoli, the space station currently is home to five other astronauts: Americans Joseph Acaba, Mark Vande Hei and Randy "Komrade" Bresnik, as well as Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Ryazanskiy.
Francis has echoed his predecessors in stressing the absolute compatibility of faith and science, and the compatibility of the Big Bang theory with God's "divine act of creation."
In fact it was a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Georges Lemaitre, who first hypothesized that the universe began with a gigantic explosion in 1927.
Earlier this year, Francis marked the anniversary of Lemaitre's Big Bang idea by addressing a conference at the Vatican Observatory on black holes, gravitational waves and space-time singularities.
Speaking to leading scientists and cosmologists, Francis urged them to persevere in their search for truth "for we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas."