Statement on the IAU’s New Officers

The IAU General Assembly from Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA saw more than 3000 attendees from 74 countries across the world, including almost 100 members of the press. Those who attended experienced two weeks packed with symposia, meetings and events, highlighting the latest discoveries in astronomy, as well as the importance of astronomy and society, culture and history.

Several important milestones in the life of the International Astronomical Union also took place, with the Commission reform, four new Resolutions, agreements on new Offices, and elections making sure that the IAU’s role to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation continues to be implemented with care, professionalism and enthusiasm.

During the IAU General Assembly, I had the honour to take on the role of General Secretary together with three other newly elected IAU officers: Silvia Torres-Peimbert, Mexico, President; Ewine van Dishoeck, the Netherlands, President-elect; Maria Teresa Lago, Portugal, General Secretary-elect.

It is a historic moment for the IAU to have three women in its Office and a proof that the organization is careful to offer equal chances to its extraordinary members, whether they are male or female.

With regards to the new Officers, I would like to expand a bit on a thought I shared during the Closing Ceremony and which seems to have not come across as I intended. During my speech, I mentioned how honoured I am to be working with such outstanding scientists, whom I know personally, and whom I consider that on top of their scientific stance bring to the office qualities that are essential and in alignment to the IAU’s consolidated role in education and astronomy for development.

I have the privilege to have known Silvia, Teresa and Ewine since the beginning of our professional career and now, after 30-40 years, I can without the shadow of a doubt only feel admiration for their accomplishments and contributions to our understanding of the Universe we live in. I also very much look forward to working together with them and learning from them, while sharing my own experience.

I understand and agree that mentioning gender is too often received as not appropriate but I was willing to take the risk and express my deep admiration for my fellow officers. Even if the topic of gender equality is a complex and delicate one, it is not my wish to ignore it just because it is hard to approach in a 100% correct, balanced and beneficial manner. Discussing the role and position of women in astronomy is of great relevance for the IAU and also for society in general. I would like to apologise that my remarks offended some, and to admit that I can also see their points of view. I do wish to communicate that my message was a personal and sincere tribute to the new Officers and to women in astronomy in general.


Question 2 – Umberto’s opinion

My son Umberto wants to say something on Question 2 (Massachusetts voters are asked to vote on Question 2: “Prescribing Medication to End Life”. This question would, if passed, legalize doctor prescribed suicide). He cannot write so he urged me to type for him (he can’t talk either, but we have efficient ways to communicate). Here we go, but please remember that what you read are his thoughts, not mine.


Hi, I am Umberto and I want to send a message to my American brothers who are called to vote on Question 2 above. I am pretty sure that my Italian fellows will face similar situations very soon, so please do not see my words as an undue interference, it is just training. Indeed I don’t want to comment the legal aspects of Q2, the right to decide, etc., I just want to share my personal experience on two issues that are closely related: what doctors and people in general (they) believe it is an “unbearable way of living” and what I consider a dignified way of dying.

When I was born, doctors found I was affected by a rare chromosomal syndrome. They carefully read the books and sentenced that I was going to dye (in dignified manner or not they didn’t care) in less than a year. It was a waste of time and public money to try to keep me alive for just few months, condemned to “unbearable” physical sufferings. Fortunately my Mom, who is a mother first and then a doctor, read my eyes first and later her medical books and told her colleagues to proceed “full code” to keep me alive. Of course they did what my mother wanted, but just because they did not want to contrast a colleague who evidently was losing her mind because of the “tragedy” (i.e. me!) that hit her.

In fact doctors and everybody, relatives included, were displaying great compassion for my parents and my older brother: they thought they were suffering beyond limit because of me, so different I was from other children and in continuous need for help: eating, washing, moving me around, I never learned to speak nor to stand up. However I was able to look deep in the eyes and to smile, just to show everybody how much I was happy to live.

Pretty soon the “others” thought my family had gone nuts because, instead of crying and complaining about the “unbearable” situation, they were happier than before my arrival. Sure, they had to change drastically their lifestyle, but for the better. They were forced to eliminate anything which was not essential for better caring me and the big prize was that they discovered, with me, the essence of true unconditional love. Having eliminated all the “normal” capabilities and perspectives, the only bare thing remaining was love, just Love. My parents had read Cor I, 13 many times, but never really understood it until I entered in their life.

However, in spite of their effort, my family never succeeded in convincing doctors and everybody else that I was a great gift. They continue to think their mind derailed at my birth or their serene attitude was just a posture to survive. Reality was quite the opposite: we had the possibility to see the true meaning of life, they were “seeing” only technical books and instruments’ readings.

I spent 16 years on Earth (didn’t they say less than one?). Physically it was a rollercoaster, but once you understand that the essence is love, fighting adversities and taking care of the family as a whole, becomes the normal way of living and, miracle!, none fear the death anymore. In fact, once you really experience unconditional love, when you can “touch” it, you know that it transcends the time, the “kronos”, and it enters into the “kayrós”, the sacred time that stands out of the space-time tunnel in which we spend our terrestrial life. Moving out of the tunnel will not destroy the love you generated: joining the eternal Love you will share it with the Saints.

So, one day, dipping down a usual rollercoaster hill I felt I couldn’t pull up again. With the constant help of my family, I fought for a week, then I had to give up. When the time came, only my Mom was with me, my big brother and Dad were resting at home: in my way I urged my Mom to call them, quickly! Doctors, as usual, couldn’t understand how I was still able to breath and my heart to beat: for them I was supposed to be dead. They never understood my power! In few minutes the family was reunited and only as I felt the hands of my brother, of my father and my mother grasping mine in trepidation, I let it go and breathed my last. It was a supreme moment for all of us, and for an instant we all saw the light I was entering in.

That is what I consider a dignified way to die. Something everybody should hope to experience when the time is ripe. But there are no human laws, or votes to Question 2,  that can prescribe or negate such an experience…

Love to you all, from where I see the Truth “face to face”, Umberto




Utrum quaeritur ad evangelium praedicandum
scientia physica ignorare possitur.
Et videtur quod sic.
(…imitando Tommaso)

ANDARE A CUCIRE (A. Zanzotto, da “Idioma”, 1975-86)
                 A la Maria Carpèla
(che la ‘ndéa a pontar par le case)

Si no ‘l te fèsse ‘n paradiso
aposta par ti, anca si paradisi no ghe n’è,
al saràe da méter a l’inferno
l’istesso Padreterno –
la saràe da méter a l’inferno
tuta, tuta quanta “la realtà”,
si par ti no la fésse ‘n paradiso
pien de bontà come la tó bontà,
gnentaltro che ‘l paradiso
come che ti tu l’à pensà.
A Maria Carpel (che andava a cucire presso le famiglie) Se non ti facesse un paradiso / apposta per te, anche se paradisi non ce ne sono, / sarebbe da mettere all’inferno / lo stesso Padre Eterno – / sarebbe da mettere all’inferno / tutta, tutta quanta la realtà, / se per te non facesse un paradiso / pieno di bontà come la tua bontà, / niente altro che il paradiso / come tu l’hai pensato.
Non sappiamo molto di Maria Carpel se non che passava di famiglia in famiglia a rammendare calzini, rattoppare strappi dei vestiti, accorciarli o allunagarli, magari rivoltarli per prolungarne la vita. Mestiere (anzi, mestierol) spazzato via dal consumismo dilagante (vedi, sempre in “Idioma”, “Intervista”). Forse il suo unico compenso era una scodella di minestra, una fetta di polenta, un bicchiere di vino…

Sappiamo però che nelle famiglie, mentre pontava, cuciva, portava allegria, portava bontà per la quale non chiedeva compensi. La elargiva contenta di creare in Terra, forse senza saperlo, un pezzetto di quel Paradiso che lei immaginava.

Aveva bisogno di sapere cos’è il Big-bang per trovare la via del Paradiso? non credo… e in Paradiso oggi la Maria c’è di sicuro e avrà portato con sé in dote l’allegria  e la bontà che ha generato in Terra.

Se vogliamo che anche la scienza serva a qualcosa (per la nostra salvezza intendo), allora la dobbiamo trasformare in bellezza, in soffio universale che tutti possono respirare a pieni polmoni. Magari senza scrivere formule matematiche, ma dipingendole in un quadro o nascondendole nelle pieghe di una poesia.




Questo blog nasce per dare continuità alle riflessioni dell’autore sul tema dell’integrazione della cultura scientifica con la cultura umanistica. In particolare sono interessato al superamento del dialogo in atto tra ricerca scientifica e ricerca teologica, convinto che quest’ultima può trarre importanti spunti di approfondimento dal modello del mondo fenomenologico che la scienza produce. Nell’allegato un portfolio in formato pdf di articoli apparsi su quotidiani e riviste.

Articoli e Scritti – P. Benvenuti