FaithWorld

Catholic-atheist meetings end with Pope Benedict appeal to youth

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Pope Benedict urged French youths on Friday to help put God back into public debate, either as Christians sharing their faith or as non-believers seeking more justice and solidarity in a cold utilitarian world. In a video address from the Vatican to an evening rally outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, the pope also urged them to “tear down the barriers of fear of the other, the foreigner, of those who are not like you” that mutual ignorance can create.

Benedict’s address, projected on a large screen in the square, came at the end of two days of a Vatican-sponsored dialogue between Roman Catholics and atheists, part of a drive to revive the faith in Europe that is a hallmark of his papacy.

“The question of God doesn’t endanger society, it doesn’t threaten human life!” he told the crowd during a break in its evening of modern and ancient Christian music. “The question of God must not be absent from the great questions of our time.”

He said religions had nothing to fear from secular society as long as it had “an open secularism that lets all live as they believe, in accordance with their conscience.”

Vatican launches public dialogue with atheists in Paris

(UNESCO headquarters in Paris)

(UNESCO headquarters in Paris, 7 Sept 2005/Matthias Ripp)

The Vatican has launched a series of public dialogues with non-believers, 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.