The Vatican City State is the smallest country in the world. Entirely surrounded by Rome, it is only 1/5th of a square mile – smaller than the downtowns of most small cities.
Despite its tiny size, the Vatican influences many places in the world. That’s because it is where the Pope lives. He is the head of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the main church of many of the world’s countries.
The Vatican has its own borders, flag, euro coins, and national soccer team. It even has its own army. Well, sort of. The Vatican’s Swiss Guard is a small force of soldiers that acts as the Pope’s personal bodyguard. The 135 guards wear a blue, red, and yellow striped tunic with matching pants and white gloves. A ceremonial unit, it does not take part in any combat operations.
One example of the Vatican’s influence is atop Mount Graham, in southeastern Arizona in the United States. There is a large telescope – one owned by the Vatican, thousands of miles away.
The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is almost six feet across and has a primary mirror composed of 36 hexagonal small mirrors.
There are several telescopes near the Vatican, back in Rome, but since the 1930s, light and air pollution have been it difficult to see the stars. The Vatican therefore decided to build an observatory in Arizona where Jesuit priests could do research.
Why is that important?
Because the Catholic Church has certainly changed its attitude about astronomy!
In 1615, the Church condemned Galileo Galilei for saying that the earth was not the center of the universe. He also said that the Earth goes around the sun, not the other way around. The Vatican threatened him with death and with going to Hell unless he said he was wrong. To save himself, Galileo said he had made an error.
In 1992 – 375 years later! – the Roman Catholic Church finally admitted Galileo was right. Now, by investing in stargazing, the church’s aim is to show that it is open to science.
Vatican Activity 1
Draw trees for the following sentences.
- The Vatican threatened Galileo with death in 1615.
- Many Catholics want to travel to Rome to see the Pope hold Mass.
- The Pope holds Mass from the Vatican balcony on Easter morning.