Holy Communion in space

Just over a week into the mission, one of us realized it was Sunday again, two weeks after Easter. Our shifts overlapped for a few hours, so during one orbital night Sid, Kevin and I gathered on the flight deck for a short Communion service.

Kevin, a eucharistic minister, carried the Blessed Sacrament with him, contained within a simple golden pyx. The three of us shared our amazement at experiencing the beauty of creation, and thanked God for good companions and the success achieved so far. Then Kevin shared the Body of Christ with Sid and me, and we floated weightless on the flight deck, grateful for this moment of comradeship and communion with Christ.

Our silent reflection was interrupted by a sudden burst of dazzling white light. The sun had risen (as it did 16 times each day) just as we finished Communion, and now its pure radiance streamed through Endeavour’s cockpit windows and bathed us in its warmth. To me, this was a beautiful sign, God’s gentle touch confirming our union with him.

I rolled away from my crewmates, unable to stem the tears evoked by that singular sunrise. My gaze turned to the overhead windows and the Pacific Ocean, the dawn lighting its surface in a rich, limitless blue.

I called out to Kevin and Sid, “Look at that ocean—what an incredible color!” They both turned and drank in hues unmatched by the palette of any human artist. After a moment, Kevin said simply, “It’s the blue of the Virgin’s veil, Tom.” He was right. There were no other words for that vision out the window.

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Two Italian astronauts orbiting on Space Shuttle prompt live papal interchange, blessing.

“Dear astronauts,” the pope began, speaking in English, from a desk at the Vatican, headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church. “I’m very happy to have this extraordinary opportunity to converse with you during your mission.

“Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the face of scientific knowledge and technical applications. In a sense, you are our representatives spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence. We all admire your courage, as well as the discipline, commitment with which you’ve prepared yourselves for this mission.

“This conversation gives me the chance to express my own admiration and appreciation to you and also to collaborate in making your mission possible and to add my heartfelt encouragement to bring it to a safe and successful conclusion,” the Pope said.

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