Vatican launches public dialogue with atheists

Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:01pm EDT
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The Vatican launched a series of public dialogues with non-believers Thursday, choosing leading intellectual institutions in Paris to present its belief that modern societies must speak more openly about God.

The decision to start the series in France, where strong secularism has pushed faith to the fringes of the public sphere, reflected Pope Benedict's goal of bringing religious questions back into the mainstream of civic debates.

The dialogues, called "Courtyard of the Gentiles" after the part of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem where Jews and non-Jews met, will continue in at least 16 cities in Europe and North America over the next two years.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, told participants at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the dialogue was meant not to confront believers and atheists but to seek common ground.

Rather it was "an invitation to non-believers ... to start a voyage with believers through the desert," he said.

The meeting was due to continue Friday with sessions at the Sorbonne university and the Institut de France, home of the prestigious Academie Francaise.


Pope Benedict, who recently launched another Vatican drive to revitalise the faith in traditionally Catholic countries, proposed these meetings with non-believers in 2009.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI waves at the end of his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 23, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>