Vatican Plans Colloquia, Party for Nonbelievers

Launches "Courtyard of the Gentiles" Initiative

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As part of a new initiative to promote dialogue between believers and nonbelievers, the Pontifical Council for Culture is planning three colloquia and a youth party in Paris.

A Vatican communiqué announced the launch of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles," an initiative proposed by Benedict XVI in an address to the Roman Curia at the end of 2009.

It explained that this is "a new permanent Vatican structure to promote dialogue and encounter between believers and nonbelievers."

This new institution will be inaugurated with three colloquia in Paris on the theme "Religion, Enlightenment, Common Reason."

The first will be held March 24 at the headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), under this agency's patronage. The next morning, another will take place at the Sorbonne. Then, on the afternoon of March 25, the third will be held at the Institut de France.

At the conclusion of these colloquia, a roundtable discussion will be held at the College des Bernardins.

The inauguration will also include a party, targeted for youth although open to all, in the evening of March 25 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame courtyard.

The party will center on the theme "Into the Courtyard of the Unknown" and will feature artistic creations, music, drama, light shows, and time for meeting and reflection.

The cathedral will be opened for anyone who wants to participate in a prayer vigil and meditation.

The unknown God

The idea for this initiative was proposed in a Dec. 21, 2009, address by the Pope to the Roman Curia, in which he spoke about the "Court of the Gentiles," a space in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem that was not reserved for the Jews, but rather was open to any person independent of his culture or religion.

The Pontiff noted that Jesus, in the Gospel, cleared this temple courtyard of extraneous affairs "so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved."

The Holy Father noted, "He was thinking of people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the 'unknown God.'"

"I think that today too the Church should open a sort of 'Court of the Gentiles' in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands," Benedict XVI stated.

He continued, "Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown."