A Man for Our Season of Climate Change

by Paul Welch, Guest Writer

Fr. George Coyne, S.J., who died on Feb.11 this year, had a brilliant mind, the courage to follow the truth and a persona that made people of all backgrounds comfortable. His career as an astrophysicist spanned decades with discoveries and awards galore. 

Pope John Paul I appointed him director of the Vatican Observatory in 1978 and was its longest-serving director, holding the post for nearly three decades.

In 1993 Father Coyne, employed by both the Vatican and the University of Arizona, mounted a new Advanced Technology Telescope on Mount Graham in southern Arizona. Light pollution made the Vatican site impossible.

Recognized among astronomers for his research into the birth of stars and his studies of the lunar surface (an asteroid is named after him), Father Coyne was also well known for seeking to reconcile science and religion. He challenged alternative theories to evolution like creationism and intelligent design.

He exchanged publically views of evolution with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a proponent of Intelligent Design and a close friend of Pope Benedict XI. Fr. Coyne countered the cardinal that Intelligent Design undermines the power of God and evolution provides an opportunity for believers to reflect on their beliefs.

He also fought for the redemption of Galileo in Catholic history. Fr. Coyne is quoted, ““Galileo said that scripture was written to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

In 2012 Fr. Coyne came to LeMoyne College and assumed the Endowed McDevitt Chair in Physics at theMcDevitt Center. With his earnest encouragement the McDevitt Center sponsored a series of lectures on Climate Change from both religious and scientific perspectives. 

In 2015 Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, and Franciscan Sister Caryn Crook joined together to form the Syracuse Catholic Diocese’s Laudato Si’ (LS) Task Force. Pope Francis had not yet issued the Laudato Si’ Encyclical– On Care of Our Common Home. However, the themes of Care of Creation and Care of the Poor and Vulnerable were evident. Over the ensuing years this Jesuit and his Franciscan colleague visited parishes and schools spreading the insights of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’- On Care of Our Common Home. Other Laudato Si’ Task Force members led Earth Day activities, shared Laudato Si’ with parish religious education classes, shared climate change/LS insights after Sunday services, celebrated the feast of St. Francis Assisi, attended community Climate Change rallies and wrote articles for the local paper.

In 2015 Fr. Coyne wrote an editorial on Laudato Si’. Here are a few quotes:

“The encyclical reaches far beyond the Roman Catholic Church… The Pope invites all who dwell on the surface of the earth to enter into a dialogue about the environment with an attitude of urgency that we together must take action.”

“To many who have political and economical vested interests this is probably the most challenging encyclical since the great social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, which discussed the rights, and duties of Labor and Capital.”

“The encyclical is based upon solid scientific analysis.”

“Pope Francis now declares that sustaining the earth is urgent. There is no time to lose.”

With the encouragement of our new Bishop Douglas Lucia, the Diocesan Laudato Si’ Task Force will work on bringing the whole Catholic community into the vision of Pope Francis. Fr. George would not wish a greater tribute than for the people he touched to involve themselves in this great and necessary work.

Email pwelch@syrdio.orgif you want to help.

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