In the year 20-19 BC, King Herod began a major renovation, almost a restructuring of the Temple of Jerusalem, the second, one that had been built after the exile. In addition to the areas reserved to the members of the people of Israel (men, women, priests) in this temple there was a space in which everyone could enter, Jews and non-Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, members or not of the chosen people, people educated in the law and people who weren't. Here gathered the rabbis and teachers of the law ready to listen to people's questions about God, and to respond in a respectful and compassionate exchange. This was the Court of the Gentiles and pagans, in Latin the atrium gentium, a space that everyone could traverse and could remain in, regardless of culture, language or religious profession. It was a meeting place and of diversity.
From such a place comes the inspiration for this initiative of the Pontifical Council for culture: 'the Courtyard of the Gentiles.' It deals with encounter and dialogue, a space of expression for those who do not believe, and for those who are asking questions about their faith, a window open to the world, to contemporary culture and to the voices that resonate.
THE COURTYARD, A PLACE OF MEETING AND OF DIVERSITY
The term ' Gentiles/pagans ' requires a preliminary reflection. If in the Jewish sphere it referred to those who were not Jews, the uncircumcised, currently the identity of those invited to this «Courtyard» poses additional questions.
The term Latin gens, from which the word ' gentile' comes, refers to the idea of a foreign nation in contrast to the Roman people, the populus romanus. «Gentile» or «pagan» is the translation of the Hebrew goi/goyim, which appears 561 times in the Old testament, and the Greek ethnos/ethnê, which recurs not less than 162 times in the New Testament.
Therefore, thus throughout history of God's Covenant, even those who seemed to be excluded, the foreigners (Gentiles, Pagans), were in fact the object of interest and were taken into account. A concrete space has now been opened: all are convoked, their voice joins other voices that go in search of the unknown God.