.- After decades of Communist rule in Albania, Pope Benedict XVIâs initiative to dialogue with non-believers drew hundreds of young people for a two-day event in the capital of Tirana.
âThere is a great thirst for spirituality in Albania after 47 years of atheist, communist, absolute dictatorship,â Richard Rouse of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which organized the event, told CNA.
âIn communist Albania,â Rouse added, religion âwas absolutely not allowed. For 47 years they tried to kill Godâand failed.â
On Nov. 14 and 15, the Pontifical Council for Culture, along with the local Catholic Church in Albania, organized a series of events that facilitated both dialogue with and discovery of Christianity.
In the piazza in front of Tiranaâs St. Paulâs Cathedral on Nov. 14, hundreds of young people took part in discussions in three different tents on the topics of work, spirituality and information and communication.
âFor example, in the âworkâ tent,â Rouse explained, âwe discussed 'what does work itself mean? Is it just about getting money or is there some social dignity to it?'â
Each specific discussion session was then followed by a larger conversation in the piazza with members Catholic hierarchy and other participants.
What became clear, Rouse noted, is that Albania is âa great fertile terrain,â for Christianity.
On Nov. 15, dialogue with academics and intellectuals at two events hosted by Tiranaâs universities held âmore high-brow conversations that began with a more studied and philosophical set of questions,â Rouse said.
The topics discussed included questions of identityâboth religious and nationalâas well as issues related to fundamental human rights and religious liberty.
The concept of the event, known as the Courtyard of the Gentiles, stems from a 2009 address by Pope Benedict, where he called for a Catholic dialogue âwith 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.â
Members from the Pontifical Council for Culture, under the guidance of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, have initiated a series of similar gatherings across Europe beginning in Paris in March 2011. The invitation list, so far, has included a host of intellectuals drawn from both the arts and sciences.
The title given to these events is in reference to the âCourt of the Gentilesâ which, in the time of Jesus, was an area in the Temple of Jerusalem where non-Jews could interact with Jews.
Richard Rouse believes the new format, which will reach the United States in 2013, is already bearing fruit.
âI think that was a weakness in some previous dialogue was that we presumed a bit too much about the atheists,â he said, âso, weâve gone back a step further to say âokay, open floorâtell us what is it you believe in.â Thatâs very important.â
He said just by asking that question they have âenticed peopleâ into a deeper reflection upon such things as the meaning of life and into asking âwhere can those questions lead to a religious perspective and how can that take on a social dimension?â