The Vatican plans to start a dialogue with atheists in Mexico, addressing a call from the previous pope to allow them to get to know God.
The Vatican announced that the dialogue with atheists will take place over the next month in three Mexican cities — Monterrey, Puebla, and Mexico City. These “Courtyard of the Gentiles” meetings have taken place before, but never in a Latin American country.
The events are billed as a chance to give seminarians, university students, Catholics, and atheists a chance to reflect on the place of faith in Mexican life, Vatican officials said.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said that the meetings will also address the country’s rampant drug trafficking and religiosity professed by drug traffickers.
The talks come as atheism is on the rise in the Americas. A worldwide poll from late 2012 called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped to 60 percent from 73 percent in 2005.
The number of Americans identifying themselves as atheist also rose during that period as well, from 1 percent in 2005 to 5 percent in 2012.
“The obvious implication is that this is a manifestation of the New Atheism movement,” said Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who and atheism scholar.
But Cragun said the poll does not necessarily show a rise in atheism as much as an increased willingness of non-believers to be open in their responses.
“For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the US.”
Pope Benedict XVI, who left his post last month, said in 2009 that the Roman Catholic Church should make a more concerted outreach to atheists.