You are a Good for me

Our current historical context is characterized by a profound crisis that has as its consequence a general air of mistrust when facing the present and looking to the future. The other, what’s different, what’s “outside,” all appear to be threats, they come to be seen and are for the most part considered through the lens of instrumentalization and utilitarianism. In the midst of these dramatic circumstances, Pope Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. “Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. But human nature and reality itself point to the unavoidable need for a relation, a relationship, a continual encounter with reality as the primary necessity to discover the truth of oneself and of the world. Family, children, friends, colleagues, the poor person you meet by chance on the streets: they are challenges we have to come to terms with every day. Often the substitution of difficult relationships and “contacts” in flesh and blood with those that are more comfortable, automatic, and always available–but ultimately, absent–from the virtual world can generate a profound solitude, as well as the illusion of autonomy, of a final extreme freedom without any ties one depends upon. Men and women need others, to share their desires, plans, difficulties, sacrifices, fears and pain: to share the reason for their existence. Community is formed by and exists precisely for this.  Man’s “I,” therefore, is first and foremost a history made up of faces, relationships and circumstances that play out over the course of time. How is it possible to look at others in a new way, not simply tolerating what’s different, but intuiting and betting on the fact that “you” are and represent an ultimate positivity that “I” need to live? What makes a human position like that just described possible? 

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“What is man, that you are mindful of him?”. Genetics and human nature in the gaze of Jérôme Lejeune

An investigation into human nature from the witness of Jérôme Lejeune, doctor and discoverer of trisomy 21, pioneer of clinical genetics, and strenuous defender of human life. 

The extraordinary development of genetics has opened great possibilities and expectations, but has also brought to the fore the question: “Do we want to know in order to cure or to select?” The most recent discoveries in evolutionary biology make it quite difficult to think of living beings, and most of all of man, as totally determined by genes. Thus an idea very dear to Jérôme Lejeune resurfaces: that every man is “unique” and “irreplaceable,” and should be seen as such.

This exhibition deals with the human being and his destiny by proposing a research on “human nature:” starting from the testimony of Jérôme Lejeune, founder of clinical genetics, through the developments of this discipline and the more recent advances in evolutionary biology on genetic determinism. 

The exhibit is divided into three parts:

The man Lejeune and the foundation of clinical genetics.

His scientific training is retraced within the context of the biomedical knowledge of his time and some basic notions are introduced (hereditary illness, chromosomes, genes, DNA …). Then, his scientific activity is described, as well as his approach to research, and his discoveries: in particular, how he was able to demonstrate in 1958 the connection between the Down syndrome and trisomy 21. Lejeune is a researcher but also a doctor, in particular he is a pediatrician: his position, and thus the purpose of his scientific research, is to know in order to cure; and to cure means to take care of the person. Some examples are introduced that describe how the genetic research has made it possible to treat some hereditary syndromes and, starting form Lejeune’s witness, how important it is for the sick person to be within a human context, even in cases where there is no progress. The exhibition highlights the foundations on which Lejeune bases his view of man, which are at the origin of his strong public pro-life stances: for Lejeune each man is “unique” and “irreplaceable” and as such he must be guarded.

The developments of clinical genetics.

From Lejeune’s discoveries, genetics has made great progress. Nowadays we know most of the human genes and his entire DNA sequence; therefore, it is possible to identify the genetic bases of several diseases. But this is not all. With today’s technologies and with relatively little money, we can obtain the entire DNA sequence of several single individuals. What for? Which information can we gain from it? Someone says that we will be able to anticipate if a person is a carrier of a genetic disease, if he is predisposed to degenerative diseases (diabetes, atherosclerosis, etc.); and if he will have a good disposition, if he will be intelligent or, for example, if he will be a great pianist. But, most of all, is this knowledge a means to better cure, as Lejeune stated, or is it used to select (eugenics)

Is our destiny written in our genes?

The exhibition reviews the idea, however widespread, that there is “one gene for” each characteristic (it often happens to read: “discovered the gene for altruism, the gene for aggressiveness, the gene for intelligence, etc.”); this is the idea according to which the human being, and in general any living organism, is the sum of many “genes for.” The modern evolutionary biology tells us that the genetic makeup is not so much an “executive program” but rather the sum of “tools” used by the biological organism, together with several other information sources, to build its own life. Therefore, it is rather difficult to think about the living beings, and most of all the human being, as beings totally determined and dependent by genes. And here appears the image, so dear to Lejeune, of the irreducible uniqueness of man and of the contingency of any living being: we might have not been here, and yet we are here; and this gaze on reality cannot be anything else than a continuous and inexhaustible source of surprise and question. This mystery remains incomprehensible until it takes up the name of “father;” as Lejeune was “father” for his patients. Only the father is able to recognize uniqueness, and he can do so when he discovers that he himself is a son.

Curated by the Association Euresis, the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation. In collaboration with Association Medicina e Persona, Crossroads Cultural Center. Some of the text on this page was taken from the Rimini Meeting website.

Ad Usum Fabricae. The Infinite Molds the Work: The Construction of the Milan Cathedral

In the medieval world, the cathedral expressed man’s nature as relationship with the infinite. In it, each human being could find a home for his desire and a shelter despite his sin; in it, the people found the ideal image of their unity.

The construction of the Cathedral involved the whole city; it was the work par excellence in which all people, in various ways, participated. As the Archives of the Fabbrica del Duomo stated, “without distinction of class, all rushed to bring their offerings for the great undertaking, with material offers of money and of possessions.” In the ancient pages of the archive, moving stories come to life and recount how men and women gave their contributions to the common undertaking, as they could: the merchant who left his fortune to the Fabbrica; the prostitutes that in the morning offered a tenth of their night work; the old lady who offered the work of her hands and even the fur with which she protected herself from the cold.

The Cathedral’s construction, which lasted six centuries, had also a major role in the economy of Milan. First of all, it provided job opportunities: in the first decades of its construction, about 4000 people worked on the construction of the Cathedral. Among the workers, many were foreigners, brought in for their knowledge and expertise that they had developed somewhere else: thus, the cathedrals’ building site became an international construction zone, a place of exchange of cultures and techniques. The construction of such a grand building also imposed important technological innovations, such as new machines and techniques. And huge infrastructures were built for the transportation of the marble from Candoglia on Lake Maggiore to the center of Milan. Therefore, even though the Cathedral was built in order to express the original movement of the person and of the people towards their own destiny, it gave its own contribution to the economic vitality of the city.

The exhibit relies on the collaboration of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano which, for this occasion, has lent some significant pieces of its archive and museum.

Exhibit promoted by the Compagnia delle Opere. Curated by Barbone Marco, Mariella Carlotti, Martina Saltamacchia. With the support of the Venerable “Frabbrica of the Milan Cathedral”. Text found here.

A drama enshrouded by glory: Men and women at work in the artworks of Jean François Millet 

2015 was the bicentennial of the birth of one of the most significant modern painters, Jean François Millet. This exhibit celebrates the passion that Millet had for men and women at work as the subjects of his paintings.

"The general disaffectedness with labor" – wrote Charles Péguy in 1910 – "is the most profound defect, the fundamental defect of the modern world."

Some decades earlier Jean-François Millet, had chosen work – labor – as the preferred subject matter for his paintings — and, in effect, his works are charged with a sincere depth of feeling for the daily toil of humankind. He said: "At the bottom it always comes to this: a man must be touched himself in order to touch others, and all that is done from theory, however clever, can never attain this end, for it is impossible that it should have the breath of life. It is a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, to quote Saint Paul."

Labor as depicted by Millet has an epic quality which, while safeguarding the dignity of the individual, highlights the contribution of work to the common good in its transfiguring of the land.

The Certainty of Blessed John Cardinal Newman: Conscience and Reality

Taking up the challenge of Benedict XVI who, in his visit to Britain, indicated Newman as a figure to look at, above all, for his modernity, the exhibition relates his life by means of the three conversions that characterized it, proposing a biographical and thematic journey, from which it emerges that consciousness was the moving force in Newman’s journey towards certainty of the truth (as he had written in his epitaph ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem) and that this journey also characterized his being an educator and a lover of beauty.

His first conversion was the discovery that God and the soul are real, and that the presence of God can be perceived with the same concreteness and certainty as that with which we perceive exterior realities, the objects in everyday life, the faces of friends. For the young Newman, it was a Copernican revolution: he came to realize that what really counts in life is not tangible reality, but the evident presence of God’s person, in such a way that the whole of existence becomes a dialogue between the human heart and God’s heart. 

The second conversion brings the awareness that faith is not exhausted in a experience of intimistic dialogue with God, but becomes intelligence of reality. A faith that is not rooted in reality, that does not change the criteria with which man relates with the world, is in the end an illusion, and is unable to answer man’s deep desires. This leads to Newman’s untiring struggle against the dualism between “things” and “words” and the surprise that true dialogue between man and God is open to dialogue with other men, with the human heart. 

Photograph by David Galalis

Photograph by David Galalis

Lastly, his conversion to Catholicism was the discovery that God decided to “get involved in human affairs” creating a real place of his presence which is the Catholic Church. In this living Body, Christ’s person becomes tangible: He is present in the communion among bothers in faith, He shines in the holiness of their lives, and He lets himself be touched in the sacraments. In the communion of the Church, the dialogue with God’s heart comes to coincide with the dialogue between human hearts. 

Text from the Rimini Meeting website.

Earth, a Human Habitat: the Exceptional Features of our Small Planet

Wonder is the most human response to the beauty of reality and has always led human beings to raise questions: Why is the sky so impressive this evening? And why these colors? The very fact that we exist is itself a great source of wonder. For it is by no means obvious that there should be human beings within the universe. This event represents an attempt, from a strictly scientific point of view, to address the kinds of questions that arise when we consider the Earth as a human habitat.

From Il Sussidiario:

As I approached the exhibit, “The Earth, A Human Habitat,” there was a large group following one of the guides. I met two guides, Giorgio Ambrosio, a physicist who works on developing highly sensitive and powerful magnets with the Fermilab, a proton-antiproton collider in Batavia, Illinois and Massimo Robberto, who works on the Hubble space telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. These two specialists in their respective fields described panels in the exhibit with evident enthusiasm, despite the fact that the science content of most of the panels was drawn from various disciplines, including biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. The original exhibit was first presented at the Meeting in Rimini, but to create this English language traveling exhibit, the scientists collaborating on the translation had to edit it down to about half the size. The discussions became a moment of collaboration and collegiality that deepened friendships among the scientists. What made it worth the work to put together such a great exhibit? Ambrosio said, “The exhibit starts from wonder. We asked one question, “How does the earth support human life?” From this point, scientific inquiry can remain open, and after all the research, we discover many more questions! It is something that is even more wonderful!”