Paris dialogue with non-believers raises need for youth outreach

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi speaks at an April 8th press conference.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi speaks at an April 8th press conference.


After the first official dialogue session with non-believers in Paris, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and the Pontifical Council for Culture plan to approach future meetings with a greater emphasis on reaching out to young people.
The forum is called the "Courtyard of the Gentiles," and it seeks to engage adults and youth alike in contemplating spirituality through discussion on subjects like culture, philosophy and politics. It creates a "courtyard" like that outside the temple in ancient Jerusalem, which was reserved for debates between Jews and non-Jews.

The Vatican-sponsored event took place in Paris, France from March 24-25. It was divided into encounters that involved high society, intellectuals and politicians, and a final encounter with the city's youth at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

It was during the encounter at Notre Dame, with a jovial atmosphere in the outer square and a prayer service going on inside led by the ecumenical Taize community, that the cardinal was struck by the interest of non-Catholics in the prayer.

In a pre-recorded video message aired earlier in the square, Pope Benedict XVI had asked curious non-believers to take the initiative to enter the cathedral and see what was going on inside. He even asked them to pray in their own way.

As Cardinal Ravasi surveyed the cathedral, he saw a group of Christians kneeling before a cross and a few of young people in the margins following along in booklets provided. The divide between believers and non-believers was apparent.

Many of those standing off to the side appeared only to examine the interior of church, but they stayed.

The cardinal saw the Taize community leading songs and addressing those seated in the cathedral.

At the end of the cardinal's 40 minutes there, non-believers had nearly filled the open seats in the cathedral.

"What does this mean? That perhaps proposing these things to them ... is a possibility to be tried, proposing in addition something adapted for young people," said Cardinal Ravasi.

The cardinal was speaking to reporters at a press conference at the Holy See's Press Office on April 8 to present the 14th Santo Domingo International Book Fair in the Dominican Republic. This year, the Holy See will be the guest of honor for the May event, and he will be Pope Benedict XVI's official delegate to the event.

Among the events the cardinal will oversee is a meeting with youth. He envisions a type of event like that which took place at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

"We must truly begin to start studying and reflecting more" about engaging young people who are prone to indifference towards themes of religion and spirituality, he said.

Youth, he added, are "carriers of a new cultural identity. They have their own languages and ways of reading things differently.

"It is not so much the groups that are strongly religious or those who are extremely and conscientiously secular, but the great part of them are those who live in a state of imprisonment ... of superficiality which is created by the style of the previous generation."

Society itself contributes to this worldview through mass communication messages and political, social and cultural elements, he observed.

"These things," he said, "like at Notre Dame, I want to touch on in Santo Domingo."

Cardinal Ravasi also mentioned that "Courtyard" events are planned for this year in Bucharest, Romania and Tirana, Albania. Interest in creating dialogue between believers and non-believers is growing across the western world, he said.

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