A meeting place between faith and science supported by the French Jesuits and surrounding dioceses opens on 2 June in a southwestern Paris suburb called the “French Silicon Valley” because of its new facilities for high-tech research.
The Teilhard de Chardin Centre in the town of Saclay is to be “a place of dialogue between sciences, philosophy and spirituality”. The surrounding dioceses that are supporting it are Paris, Evry, Nanterre and Versailles.
The centre aims to “shed light on contemporary, ethical, societal, social, anthropological and spiritual questions” facing today's scientists and be “a place of spiritual life” for Christian students and anyone who finds it “a place of renewal and prayer”.
Fr Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, who died in 1955, was a French paleontologist and geologist who supported evolution and believed it ultimately led to God. His ideas were criticised by the Vatican during his lifetime but have fared better in recent decades.
The boxy modern building, constructed in wood with burnt panel cladding, comprises work and teaching rooms, a chapel and a few rooms for students.
Saclay, due to be linked to the Paris metro system, has seen university faculties, research laboratories and start-ups sprout up in recent years.
Its faculties from several universities boast 65,000 students and 10,000 scientists on their staff or that of affiliated laboratories. France says it will soon account for 25 per cent of its publicly-funded research.
“The Teilhard de Chardin Centre will allow fruitful encounters between different schools of thought on questions that are significant at the anthropological, ethical and spiritual levels, but for which no one alone has the entire solution,” said its director Fr Dominique Degoul SJ.
Its scientific council, which plans monthly public discussions, includes scientists, entrepreneurs, theologians and philosophers. One member is a Muslim.
On a daily basis, Fr Degoul said, the centre will be a mix of students relaxing, scientists discussing issues and parishioners coming to pray or attend Mass.