The Courtyard of the Gentiles, a new forum for dialogue between believers and nonbelievers, was launched Thursday at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, in the presence of diplomats, international officials and representatives of the world of culture.
The initiative, promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, takes up a suggestion of Benedict XVI to create a space for 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" (Benedict XVI, Dec. 21, 2009).
At UNESCO, this dialogue was presented as an "essential element in the quest for peace and abolition of the rejection of the other in the affirmation of one's own identity," explained the Pontifical Council for Culture in a communiqué.
"This dialogue has the same relevance for our time as interreligious dialogue," the council statement affirmed. "From the perspective of globalization, it calls for posing vital questions of a universal character and values."
Several political personalities, among them Giuliano Amato, former Italian prime minister, stressed the point of view of the debate at the political, cultural and social level. "The alliance between believers and nonbelievers will give liberty and democracy their meaning," said Amato.
Henri Lopes, former prime minister of Congo, and the ambassador of that country to France and UNESCO, stressed the importance of this dialogue to promote a culture of peace in the world, beyond European and Western borders.
Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche Community, spoke about the power of transformation that stems from the quality of a look directed to wounded humanity. "Encounter is more important than dialogue to establish a relationship of trust," he said.
Believers and non-believers must continue to coexist, concluded Monsignor Follo, saying this is not just a question of reciprocal tolerance, but a challenge that must be assumed.