Courtyard of the Gentiles

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

Life is the excellent cradle for dialogue. Without dialogue life simply ceases to be what it is and should always be, life. That is why, while addressing the Participants of theInternational Meeting for Peace by the Sant’Egidio Community, on September 30 2013, Pope Francis rightly emphasized that “each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls!”

Walls can be built in all ways and with every means. Including those that are constructed by the complete absence of dialogue and cultural interaction. Yes, walls can be intellectually too! And here resides the reason why it is so important to hold conversations, to bring people together, irrespective of their faith or non-faith beliefs. This has also been the vision of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to launch that much-needed inititative he dubbed as the Courtyard of the Gentiles.

In a December 2009 address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict “called for an itinerant ‘Courtyard of the Gentiles’”, an international forum which would foster dialogue between Christian believers and agnostics or atheists. In his Discourse of Foundation to the Pontifical Council for Culture, on December 21, 2009, the Holy Father declared: “Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from theProphet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (see Is 56: 7; Mk 11:17). Jesus was thinking of the so-called ‘Court of the Gentiles’ which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there… He was thinking of people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the ‘unknown God’ (see Acts 17:23)”.

Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there is the dire need of holding a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is still unknown and who, nevertheless, do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near tohim, albeit as the Unknown. The biblical Court of the Gentiles was a large outer court 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. Cardinal Ravasi developed the Pope’s vision of large, open discussions “between faith and reason, secular culture and the Church.” Thanks to which initiative, Cardinal Ravasi “wanted to reintroduce theancient 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.” He added: “I am trying to see to it that this danger is avoided”. He then stated: “I want really fundamental questions to be asked – questions of anthropology, then good and evil, life and afterlife, love, suffering, themeaning of evil – questions that are substantially at the basis of human existence”.The leading intellectual questions to be discussed and highlighted are always in theform of whether “one choose a ‘World without God?’ How far can the human person go in the field of creation? Are there limits, and if so, what are they?”

The Augustinian Institute Centre for Augustinian and Patristic Studies, has taken Pope Benedict’s prophetic call of organizing the Courtyard of theGentiles at heart. In fact, on Tuesday, 24 January 2017, at 18.00, in Thérèse Spinelli Hall at the Augustinian Sisters School, T. Spinelli Str. Gzira, HisEminence, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture as well as President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, will deliver a lecture on the subject Il tempio e la piazza. Fede, cultura, società (The Temple and the square. Faith, culture and society). This lecture will be the main event of this year The City of God Seminar. This special event will be chaired by Professor Salvino Caruana OSA and will be under the distinguished patronage of the VR Prior Provincial Dr Ray Francalanza OSA SThD (Melit.).

Let us meet together to dialogue about the great questions of our human existence!

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