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Pope praises once-condemned findings of Copernicus
June 7, 1999
TORUN, Poland (CNN) -- Nearly 400 years after the Roman Catholic church condemned Nicholas Copernicus's discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun as heresy, Pope John Paul II visited the astronomer's birthplace and praised his scientific achievements.
"The discovery made by Copernicus, and its importance for history and science, remind us of the ever-present tension between reason and faith," the pope told officials of the university in Torun named after the astronomer.
The pontiff is on the third day of 13-day trip to his homeland.
The church condemned Copernicus' theory in 1616 and later condemned Galileo for supporting his findings. Copernicus' book "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" was banned by the Church until 1822.
In 1992, John Paul proclaimed that the Vatican had erred when it condemned Galileo. In praising Copernicus' achievements on Monday, the pope noted that new scientific breakthroughs were "growing at a dizzying rate."
"This progress gives rise to both wonderment and fear," he said. "Man is becoming ever more fearful of the products of his own intelligence and freedom ... Concern for the moral conscience and the sense of moral responsibility has today become a fundamental imperative for men and women of science."
The pope has warned of moral dangers associated with recent breakthroughs in cloning and artificial fertilization.
In the audience, modern Polish astronomer Alexander Wolszczan praised the pope's call for defining the relationship between faith and science.
"They complement each other, though it is not always evident," said Wolszczan. "They are both directed at man and especially now ... we are absorbed with so many problems, their cooperation is necessary."
In 1992, Wolszczan discovered the existence of planets outside our solar system.
More than 200,000 Poles gathered earlier Monday in a small village in central Poland to see John Paul consecrate the country's largest church.
The Lichen Basilica, still under construction, is being built in honor of the Virgin Mary and houses a 200-year-old painting known as the "Our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of Poland" that nearly 1 million people came to see last year.
"I look with awe at this huge building which, in the richness of its architecture, is an expression of faith and love for Holy Mary and for Her Son," John Paul said, speaking from a golden throne beneath a canopy to protect him from a steady rain.
He called on his listeners to pray for "faith that is not afraid of any difficulties or suffering or failure because it is based on a conviction that 'for God nothing is impossible.'"
The Lichen Basilica, towering above fields surrounding the village, is being constructed at a cost of $50 million, all from donations. Its construction provided 400 jobs in a region hit by widespread unemployment during the transition from communism to a free market economy.
The church, rising 91 meters (300 feet) above the ground and longer than a soccer field, is modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
"There is unusual power in it, something very attractive, captivating," said Blazej Basinski, a Pole who came to see the 79-year-old pope. "It's extremely beautiful. The church helps others. This is money well spent."
Other Poles disagreed.
"They should have given the money for something else," said 25-year-old housewife Itka Kozlowska. "We can honor God with prayer well enough."
After offering the new sanctuary a golden rosary with pearls, John Paul traveled to Bydgoszcz, where he paid tribute to Christians killed during the Nazi and Communist eras, calling them "unknown soldiers ... of God's great cause.".
"How many martyrs there were during the time of the Second World War and under Communist totalitarianism," he said. "They suffered and gave their lives in the death camps of Hitler or those of the Soviets."
Some 500,000 faithful heard the pope's Mass in the northwestern town.
Despite frail health in recent years, John Paul appeared strong.
"I think he's much more energetic here than at the Vatican," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "Maybe it's the Polish air."
John Paul's pilgrimage to Poland began Saturday in Gdansk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Pope praises Polish martyrs as examples for today's generation
The Holy See
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