The “Courtyard of the Gentiles” is a structure of the Pontifical Council for Culture, created to encourage meetings and dialogues between believers and non-believers.
The name courtyard has a symbolic value: in the ancient Jerusalem Temple it referred to the restricted space consecrated to non-Jews (the Gentiles). While they were listening to the chants or were following the liturgy of worship, they could question the masters of the Law on the mystery and transcendence, religion and the “Unknown God” to them.
More than 2000 years later, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to strengthen the current relevance and the function of this “space” in order that persons of different cultures and experiences could rediscover the sense of a genuine brotherhood and the answers to the great questions of our time. Significantly, he proposed this speech to the Roman Curia (21 December 2009), after his journey to the Czech Republic, where he had encountered a keen interest of people in his discourses even if it was a country with a majority of agnostics.
«Today too, Pope Ratzinger said, I think that the Church should open a sort of “Courtyard 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. In addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with 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».
From this intuition an idea took shape: translating the message of the Pope in a permanent initiative able to promote the Courtyard in today’s culture.
The birth certificate of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” bears the date of 2011, when the first major event was organised in Paris, in the UNESCO headquarters, in the Sorbonne and in the French Academy venues.
In March 2013 a new stimulus was given by the thought of Pope Francis, a man who, even in light of his origins and his culture, stressed the importance of dialogue even with «all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for the truth, goodness and beauty of God».
During these years, the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” has moved along this masterful path, bringing to the crowded squares and in the degraded places the deep desire of the search «that consents – according to the words of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi – to bring out the fathomless reasons of the believer’s hope and the expectations of the agnostic».
Nowadays the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” has become a reality, a new “frontier” where men, students, children and involved personalities who are engaged in the field of culture and faith, believe that a more welcoming and fraternal community might spring up on the basis of the dialogue.