The 2018 Renata Borlone Woman in Dialogue Prize was awarded to Dr Suleiman Baraka because of his “dedication to scientific research, his ethical capacity that is manifested in his personal work in favor of the younger generations of his people, and his witness to how scientific knowledge and ethical research are uniquely human activities.” 

The 2018 Renata Borlone Woman in Dialogue Prize was awarded to Dr Suleiman Baraka because of his “dedication to scientific research, his ethical capacity that is manifested in his personal work in favor of the younger generations of his people, and his witness to how scientific knowledge and ethical research are uniquely human activities.” 

This was the motive for the conferral that was announced by Dr. Sergio Rondinara, professor of Epistemology and Cosmology at the Sophia Unversity Institute, during the morning ceremony.

Dr. Rondinara, introduced the audience to the Palestinian astrophysicist who lost his twelve year old son in a bombardment during the war. When he returned to his country, Dr Suleiman dedicated himself to research, teaching and to the promotion of his main objective: to contribute to peacebuilding in his own land and throughout the world.

“Herein lies the prophetic character of Dr Baraka: reminding all of us that science and ethics are not two spheres that are independent from the actions of men and women, but that each of them is in need of the other, so that our actions might be authentically human. He has shown us that it is possible to lead back into indivisible unity the two dimensions that are thought by contemporary culture to be obviously estranged: science and ethics. Each of these dimensions is fascinating on its own, one that is perceived through the discovery and contemplation of the star-filled sky, and the other grasped through the free and original engine of the human conscience.”

Dr Suleiman accepted the prize with much joy and, in his acceptance speech reiterated several times that living under the same sky makes us all brothers and sisters.” “Renata Borlone had spoken of the beauty of God’s creation –he recalled – and in the Holy Koran there are more than 1400 verses with cosmological and astronomical significance. Surely there are also many in the Bible and in the Torah.”

 “Unfortunately today’s news only reports the statistics when it comes to the victims of violence. As for me, I grew up learning to reject violence, which led to my idea of an astrophysics for peace. When I heard the news that my 12-year-old son, Ibrahim, had died following a raid, I was more determined to confront fear through education. I’m convinced that a better education makes people of all faiths look in the same direction: astronomy makes us see that we are one universal family that shares the same sky. My son was killed on January 5, 2009, and shortly afterward the president of the International Astronomic Union (IAU), Dr Robert Williams and his Council gifted me with a telescope to be used for my projects, and I began from my son’s classmates.”

Dr Suleiman’s work was just incredible, the result of courage and determination, which he also highlighted in his presentation, in the light of Renata and her work.

“Every story has a hidden side,” he concluded, “and I always try to do my work in favor of the whole human race.”

Originally, from Gaza, Dr Suleiman Baraka obtained a doctorate in astrophysics at the Pierre e Marie Curie University of Paris. In 2010 he founded and directs the Astronomy and Space Science Center of Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. He currently holds the UNESCO Chair of Astrophysics and Space Science in the same institution. He collaborates with NASA, ESA, CNES and Roscosmos in the “search to resolve problems related to space vehicles” and he is member of several international scientific communities, such as the American Geophysical Union (2005);; the European Geophysical Union (2011), and the International Astronomical Union (2015), which financed his project promulgating the spreading of scientific knowledge with the goal of forming the new generations in the belief that peace is possible.  

Here are a few of the many messages that were sent for the occasion.

His Eminence Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, was unable to attend the award ceremony in person, but sent Dr Piero Benvenuti, Consultant of the Pontifical Council of Culture and Secretary General of the International Astronomical Union (UAI) to extend the congratulations on behalf of the Council: “The Pontifical Council is always very attentive to scientific culture, especially the relationship between Faith and Science
(. . .) In the past, the attention was particularly turned toward the possibility of integrating current scientific knowledge with Christian theological research, but more recently the interest shifted to the universal value of Science and to the possibility of using this characteristic of Science to remove the social, political and religious barriers that continue to divide the world. So, it was encouraging for us to learn of the existence of scientists like Dr Baraka, who put into practice what we discuss in theory. We hope that this Prize stimulates other scientists and people of good will to use Science not only to bring ahead the patrimony of universal knowledge, but also to build peace in the world.”

President of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce: “In the context of the international scientific community, Dr Suleiman’s efforts at promulgating [Science] in favor of future generations in order to transmit the beauty of the universe and to allow them to hope in a human race [that is] ‘capable of sharing the single sky and sun and stars.’ I express my deepest esteem and lively congratulations to Dr Baraka, with the wish that the charism of unity strengthens him to carry on in his work for universal sister and brotherhood.” Dr Marco Bontempi from the Department of Political Science at the University of Florence: “Dr Suleiman Baraka’s witness to peace is also important because it illuminates from an uncommon prospective,, the great possibilities of dialogue among the religions because of the Abrahamic roots that are shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Abraham’s looking toward the sky is the gaze of a believer, of someone who knows how to see the signs of the Creator and of the Creator’s Mercy.” 

Dr Giorgio Bianciardi, Vice-President of the Italian Amateur Astronomers Union (UAI) and editor of Astronomia: “The Italian Amateur Astronomers Union which I represent on this beautiful day, as vice-president, cannot but applaud the work that Dr Suleiman has been carrying out over the years: the observation of the starry skies for the building of peace, so that the vision of the Cosmos might make us brothers and sisters.”

Congratulations also arrived from Dr Daniele Spadaro (INAF) – Astrophysical Observatory of Catania, and from Dr Paolo Conconi (INAF) – Astronomical Observatory of Brera.

Participants at the award ceremony included President of Sophia University Institute, Piero Coda; Composer, musicologist and orchestra director, director of Audioteca Poggiana  who brought his personal congratulations to Dr Baraka; Odeh Amarneh, cultural attache at the Palestinian Embassy in Italy, representing the Palestinian community of Italy. Giulia Mugnai, Mayor of Figline and Incisa Valdarno, Italy; and Vicenzo D’Anto, councilor at the Cultura di Civitavecchia where Renata Borlone was born.

Renata Borlone and the Prize

The Renata Borlone Woman in Dialogue Prize was instituted by the Renata Borlone Cultural Association in collaboration with Sophia University Institute to honor the memory of Renata Borlone (1930 – 1990), a focolarina who was responsible for Loppiano for more than twenty years and has been declared Servant of God. She was presented by Lida Ciccarelli, postulator of Renata’s Cause of Beatification. A human being who possessed a wealth of human and spiritual values, Renata was in love with science, which she saw as a privileged tool for the building of unity within the human family. Previous recipients of the prize have included: Physicist, Ugo Amaldi from CERN of Geneva (2006); Astrophysicist Pero Benvenuti from the University of Padua (2013); Scientist and General Director of CERN of Geneva, Fabiola Gianotti (2015).

 

Suleiman Baraka
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