Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday, Pope Francis unveiled a bust of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, lauding his predecessor, and stressed the uniqueness of humanity among the created world.

Benedict's spirit, Pope Francis said, "far from crumbling over the course of time, will emerge from generation to generation always greater and more powerful. Benedict XVI: a great Pope. Great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his significant contribution to theology, great for his love for the Church and of human beings, great for his virtue and piety."

The Pope's Oct. 27 address at Casina Pio IV came in the midst of the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which commissioned Fernando Delia to produce a bust of the Pope Emeritus for its halls.

"As you know, (Benedict's) love of truth is not limited to theology and philosophy, but is open to science," Pope Francis reminded the group, adding that Benedict had been appointed to the academy and had invited its president to attend the 2012 synod on the new evangelization, "aware of the importance of science in modern culture. Surely we could never say of him that study and the science have withered his person and his love for God and neighbor, but on the contrary, that science, wisdom, and prayer have enlarged his heart and his spirit. We give thanks to God for the gift that he has given to the Church and to the world with the presence and the pontificate of Pope Benedict."

Turning to the topic of the assembly – the evolution of the concept of nature – Pope Francis encouraged the academy "to pursue scientific progress and to improve the living conditions of the peoples, especially the poorest."

The Pope said he wanted to point out that "God and Christ walk with us and are also present in nature."

"When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining God as a magician, with a wand able to make everything. But it is not so," the Bishop of Rome affirmed.

"He created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and their fullness of being. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality. And so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things."

Pope Francis said that "the beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to another, but derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love."

"The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve."

"With regard to man, however, there is a change and something new."

"When, on the sixth day of the account in Genesis, man is created, God gives the human being another autonomy, an autonomy that is different from that of nature, which is freedom," Pope Francis said.

When God tells man "to name everything and to go ahead through history," he stated, "this makes him responsible for creation, so that he might steward it in order to develop it until the end of time."

"Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the earth, and, of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature. But, at the same time, the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realize, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the creator."

Pope Francis called human acts a "participation in God's power," adding that humanity is "able to build a world suited to his dual corporal and spiritual life; to build a human world for all human beings and not for a group or a class of privileged persons.

"This hope and trust in God, the creator of nature, and in the capacity of the human spirit can offer the researcher a new energy and profound serenity," said the Roman Pontiff.

"But it is also true that the action of humanity – when freedom becomes autonomy – which is not freedom, but autonomy – destroys creation and man takes the place of the creator. And this is the grave sin against God the creator."

Concluding his address, Pope Francis encouraged the members of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences to continue their work and their initiatives for the benefit of human beings.