by Polly Bennett. Published: 03 February 2012

A group from The Vatican, members of the Committee for the Cultural Project of the Italian Episcopal Conference, visited ALICE last week as part of a tour of CERN. The committee, whose aim is, partly, to enhance the relationship between religion and society, were guided around ALICE and the LHC tunnel at point 2 as part of their day's activities, which also included stops at ATLAS, the Globe of Science and Innovation, and the CERN Control Centre.

CERN

ALICE Spokesperson Paolo Giubellino escorting the Committee in the LHC tunnel

The visit was organised by Ugo Amaldi, former spokesperson for the DELPHI experiment during CERN’s LEP times, and who is now a member of the committee. “This committee cares about the relationship between religion and society, of which science is a big part. A visit to CERN was the proper way to put the clergymen in direct contact with the frontiers of science. They are not here to discuss religion but to discover what scientists do and how they do it.”

The Committee for the Cultural Project was set up at the Permanent Council of the Italian Episcopal Conference in 2008. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of the committee, first spoke of this project as a “meeting ground between the mission of the Church and the most urgent needs of the nation.” As such the aim of the committee is to increase the links and dialogue between the Church and areas of ‘big science’ such as the physics at CERN.

CERN

ALICE researcher Alberica Toia explaining the experiment to the Committee members

Led by fellow Italian ALICE spokesperson Paolo Giubellino and accompanied by Italian colleagues and ALICE technical/safety staff the committee were treated to a brief but comprehensive tour of the ALICE detectors. As well as cardinals and archbishops, many of the group doubled as intellectuals, such as anthropologists, philologists, and philosophers. Paolo Giubellino commented, “This was an unusual type of visit because we rarely have members of the spiritual authorities. It was interesting as a cultural experience and the fact that they are really interested in what we do.”

Paralleling the aims of the committee, Giubellino added, “Their visit really represents the fact that the LHC is starting to communicate what physics is about to a much wider public than just the usual audience of scientists. This is very important because we have a big responsibility towards society. We are using important resources and it is important that society knows what we are doing with these and what the goals are.”

CERN

Paolo Giubellino and the Committee at ALICE's Muon Tracking System

Amongst the committee members was Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Commenting on the visit to ALICE he said, “It is good that we become more familiar with what new discoveries bring about because they help us go deeper into the knowledge of the universe and to move forward. The dialogue between science and religion is becoming more interesting and important all the times, and in the long run I think there will be a convergence, not an antagonism.”