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The surprise of the Gentiles in Sweden

· Disbelief in the press and among the public at the face of the Catholic Church as emerged from two days of the Court ·

Two unforgettable days of respectful dialogue between believers and non-believers. With those words one could succinctly summarize the Court of the Gentiles conference which took place in the Swedish capital Stockholm on Thursday the 13th and Friday the 14th of September. The conference was a collaboration of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Embassy of Sweden to the Holy See, and two local institutions in Stockholm: the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the youth organisation Fryshuset.

One can only be thankful that the conference developed into such a respectful and rewarding dialogue between believers and non-believers. All participants could freely express their own views and critical remarks of different kinds were voiced, but not in an aggressive manner. I don’t think that anyone left the conference in offended  but glad and surely with a number of interesting pronouncements and impressive personal testimonies to reflect further. And those who had so far experienced the Church mainly as a teaching institution, could now experience her also as attentively listening to others.

The comments on the conference in Swedish mass media have been positive. It began with a very favourable and appreciated interview with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi published in the largest Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter a few days before the conference began. During the conference itself I heard a journalist of the Swedish state radio company, SR, commenting on the event stating: “it is surprising to listen to a discussion on religion and science on such a high intellectual level and with so much respect towards religious belief.” It might also be worth mentioning that the Swedish state television company, Svt, a few days after the conference took place, broadcast the complete panel discussions of the conference, a marathon of almost six hours of broadcasting time.

On leaving Fryshuset on Friday afternoon after the conference had finished, I took the opportunity to thank Ambassador Ulla Gudmundson, the primus motor of the conference, and to congratulate her on the very successful accomplishment of the conference. The otherwise always energetic Ambassador Gudmundson actually did for a moment look a little bit tired. And also very content. She had good reasons for both.

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Sept. 22, 2019

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