“For the passion he has shown in scientific research, for the ethical sense he has demonstrated in his work in favour of the younger generations of his people and in bearing witness to the fact that scientific knowledge and ethical research are jointly relevant and necessary to human life”. With this motivation, Sergio Rondinara, who teaches Epistemology and Cosmilogy at the Sophia University Institute, announced that the 2018 prize in honour of ‘Renata Borlone, a woman in dialogue’ would be awarded to Suleiman Baraka of Al-Aqsa University (Gaza City).

The Prize was established by the Renata Borlone Cultural Association in collaboration with the Sophia University Institute to honour the remarkable figure of Renata Borlone (1930-1990), a consecrated member of the Focolare Movement and one of the people in charge of the Loppiano international centre for over twenty years, now a Servant of God. A woman of high human and spiritual ideals, Renata nurtured a keen interest in science, which she saw as a tool that could contribute to the unity of the human family. The winner of the prize dedicated to her memory, Prof. Suleiman Baraka, is an astrophysicist of Palestinian origin who lost his twelve-year-old son in a bombardment during the war. He has dedicated his life to research, teaching and popularising science with a specific aim: to contribute to peace in his country and in the rest of the world.

“This is the prophetic character of your work and life, Professor Baraka: you remind us all” said Sergio Rondinara“that science and ethics are not two independent fields of human life. Rather, each one intrinsically needs the other in order for our actions to be genuinely human. Through your choices, you have shown us that it is indeed possible to reconcile the the two apparently contrasting dimensions – according to contemporary culture – of science and ethics in the indivisible unity of the person. They are both fascinating: one is perceived through the contemplation of the starry night sky, and the other one is accessed through the free and original movement of the conscience of the human soul”.

Prof. Suleiman received the prize with joy: “Renata Borlone talked about the beauty of God’s creation, and in the Holy Quran there are more than 1400 verses that have cosmologic and astronomic value. There are certainly as many in the Bible and in the Torah. (…) As for me, growing up I learned to denounce violence, hence my idea of putting astrophysics at the service of peace. When I received the news that my son Ibrahim, who was 12 years old, was killed in a raid, I was determined to face fear through education. I am convinced that a better education helps people of all faiths to look in the same direction: astronomy enables us to see that we are one universal family living under the same sky. My son died on 5th January 2009, and soon after that the President of the IAU (International Astronomic Union), Prof. Robert Williams and his Council gifted me a telescope, which I started using with my son’s classmates”.

Many personalities attended the event and numerous messages of congratulations came in to honour the extraordinary work of Prof. Suleiman. Originally from Gaza, he earned a PhD in astrophysics at Pierre et Marie Curie University in Paris in 2007. In 2010 he founded the Center of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, of which he is now the director. He currently holds the UNESCO Chair at the same University. He collaborates with NASA, ESA, CNES and Roscosmos and is a member of several other international scientific communities.

“We were thrilled to find out that there are scientists who, like Prof. Baraka, put the values that we discuss in theory into practice. We hope that this prize may encourage other scientists and people of good will to use science not only for the advancement of universal knowledge, but also to build peace in the world”, emphasised Piero Benvenuti, Secretary general of the International Astronomic Union, who was awarded the Renata Borlone Prize in 2013. The President of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce, expressed her high consideration for the professor by appreciating “his commitment to the popularisation of science in favour of young generations, teaching them about the beauty of the universe and giving them hope in a humanity that is ‘capable – in Prof. Baraka’s words – of sharing the same sky, the moon and the stars’”.

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