God poses no danger to society, individuals, pope says

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • March 29, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI waves after leading the Angelus prayer from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS Photo)VATICAN CITY - Asking questions about God is not a threat to individuals or society, just as a secular society that respects freedom of conscience is not a danger to religion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"If we are to build a world of liberty, equality and fraternity, then believers and nonbelievers must feel free to be just that: equal in their right to live as individuals and in community in accord with their convictions, and fraternal in their relations with one another," he said.

The pope's remarks were broadcast in a video message to thousands of people attending the launch of the Vatican's "Courtyard of the Gentiles" initiative March 26 in Paris. The video message was shown in the square in front of the city's Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The initiative, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, aims to promote friendly and respectful discussions between Christians and atheists or nonbelievers.

In his video message, the pope said, "The question of God is not a menace to society; it does not threaten a truly human life. The question of God must not be absent from the other great questions of our time."

The pope said many people who do not identify themselves as believers "challenge believers to live in a way consistent with the faith they profess" and to reject any distortions of religion that "would make it unworthy of mankind."

Many people who do not belong to any religion also "long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy," the pope said.

And people of faith know that "the treasure dwelling within you is meant to be shared," he said.

The pope urged everyone, especially young people, to build bridges with one another, including the poor, lonely, unemployed, the ill or marginalized, and to discover ways to engage in sincere dialogue about the challenges and pressing issues of the day.

"Religions have nothing to fear from a just secularity, one that is open and allows individuals to live in accordance with what they believe in their own consciences," he said.

"The first thing we can do together is to respect, help and love each and every human being, because he or she is a creature of God and in some way the road that leads to God," he said.

"Work to break down the barriers of fear of others, of strangers, of those who are different; this fear is born of mutual ignorance, skepticism or indifference," he added.

"I deeply believe that the encounter of faith and reason enables us to find ourselves" and the truth, happiness and beauty of life, the pope said.

The first sessions of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" project were held in Paris March 24-25, bringing Christian clergy, artists and activists together with nonbelievers from the world of politics, economics, law, literature and the arts.

Sessions are being planned for other cities around the world, including in Quebec in 2012 and in Chicago and Washington in 2013.

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