In the context of new evangelization, which is a constant and urgent task of the Church, the Holy Father Benedict XVI mentioned a decisively modern and necessary means to establish a sincere and cordial dialogue with non-believers. It deals with a field ever important for dialogue between believers and non-believers, which as far as the Christians are concerned is as old as the Church itself.
Benedict XVI, on the occasion of the Christmas speech to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2009, has dedicated a few words on the issue of atheism and religious indifference, laying the groundwork for the birth of what he called the Courtyard of the Gentiles.
These are the words of the Holy Father: “But I consider most important the fact that we, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists. When we speak of a new evangelization these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us. In Paris, I spoke of the quest for God as the fundamental reason why Western monasticism, and with it, Western culture, came into being. As the first step of evangelization we must seek to keep this quest alive; we must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives… Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. 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 to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved. A place of prayer for all the peoples by this 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" (cf. Acts 17: 23). The Holy Father continues with these words, “I think that today too the Church should open a sort of "Court 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.”
I believe that the Holy Father, in this long quote, explains the meaning and purpose of the Courtyard of the Gentiles and encourage the Church – each Diocese-to arrange this place to facilitate the reception of persons who in some way seek God. It is therefore a tool definitely suitable for our work of evangelization and for dialogue with non-believers.
A key aspect of the mission of the Courtyard of the Gentiles is to identify its interlocutors in the world of non-believers and believers, creating a bridge of openness between all those who accept dialogue and can become members of this group of seekers.
Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach
Archbishop of Barcellona
(Pastoral letter on the occasion of the presentation of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan)