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Cardinal Ravasi Urges Dialogue With Nonbelievers

Says Conversations Should Confront “Radical Questions”

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2011 ( The dialogue between believers and nonbelievers should not limit itself to finding a least common denominator of agreement, but rather should seek to confront the fundamental questions of life, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi spoke of the need for more profound dialogue with nonbelievers in an interview last week with Vatican Radio, which took place ahead of the presentation at the University of Bologna on Saturday of the “Court of the Gentiles.” The new Vatican structure — overseen by the culture council — was created to foster dialogue between believers and nonbelievers.

The idea for this initiative was proposed in a Dec. 21, 2009, address by Benedict XVI 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.”

“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,” the Holy Father stated.

The presentation at the University of Bologna preceded the international launching of the structure, which will take place March 24-25 in Paris.

Disputed Questions

The University of Bologna, Cardinal Ravasi, “wanted to reintroduce the ancient tradition of the ‘disputed questions’ — as they were called then — while at that time they had to do with different opinions and theses, in this case they will be between believers and nonbelievers.”

According to the president of the Vatican dicastery, the danger of a dialogue with nonbelievers “could only be that of an academic dialogue, a dialogue that in the end simply finds that minimal common denominator.”

“I am trying to see to it that this danger is avoided,” he stated. “I want really fundamental questions to be asked — questions of anthropology, then good and evil, life and afterlife, love suffering, the meaning of evil — questions that are substantially at the basis of human existence.”

The cardinal also has other objectives: “That, for example, one questions oneself about the quality of theology, precisely for making it clear that theology is not some paleolithic relic of the past, and is instead a discipline that has its statutes, its typology and method, is another perspective on reality.”

In the same way, he stressed the “spirituality of the atheist, because it isn’t just theology that teaches transcendence, it is also inherent in reason itself, which by its nature desires to always go beyond and so in the end also asks about the other and the absolutely other.”

“There are many paths and itineraries that we would like to propose, all of which will in any case be provocations,” he explained.

The prelate noted that both believers and atheists seek to convince others of the rightness of their ways of life. “We know and there is no reason to deny it, that religions by their nature are not only informative; they are also performative, that is, they want to form consciences, they want to show the attractiveness of their message,” he observed, but this is also a tendency of “serious atheism.”

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