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Vatican's "Courtyard of the Gentiles" initiative in Paris March 24-25

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  • Vatican's "Courtyard of the Gentiles" initiative in Paris March 24-25

    VATICAN CITY - The Vatican is reaching out to atheists with a series of series of encounters and debates aimed at fostering intellectual dialogue and introducing nonbelievers to God, officials said Friday.

    The initiative of the Pontifical Council for Culture kicks off in Paris next week with panel discussions by academics, diplomats, intellectuals and clergy at UNESCO's headquarters, the Sorbonne and the French Institute.

    The initiative, "Courtyard of the Gentiles," refers to the area in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem that was reserved for nonbelievers who wanted to learn about Judaism. Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009 that he thought the Catholic Church should open a new "Courtyard of the Gentiles" so nonbelievers could get to know God.

    Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican's culture office, told a news conference Friday that the aim was not to convert nonbelievers. Rather, he said, it was to open a two-way dialogue, remove confusion and tackle existential questions like life and death, truth, love, good and evil.

    Instead, the panelists include French intellectuals such as Axel Kahn and Julia Kristeva, as well as Pavel Fischer, former Czech ambassador to France.

    Benedict called for the creation of the new initiative after visiting highly atheist Czech Republic in 2009, saying a new "Courtyard of the Gentiles" could be a place "where men can in some way latch onto God, without knowing him and before they have gained access to his mystery, which is the inner life of the Church."

    "To the dialogue with other religions we must add dialogue with those for whom religion is something unknown, for whom God is unknown and who nevertheless don't want to remain without God but want to get closer to him at least as an unknown," he said then.

    The March 24-25 initiative will end with an evening youth festival outside Paris' Notre Dame cathedral and a prayer service open also to nonbelievers inside.