VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Religious and nonreligious people today must learn to engage in fair and objective dialogue so that they may unite the world and make it better as a whole, a young atheist said.

Sandro Bucher, a delegate from Switzerland, said the pre-synod meeting of young people taking place in Rome is not just an opportunity for the church to listen to young Catholics and Christians but also a chance for them to understand and work together with their nonreligious peers.

Speaking to journalists at the Vatican press office March 22, Bucher said that, as a representative of nonreligious young people worldwide, the experience of interacting with young adults from different religions and cultures was a “really positive” step toward building a bridge between believers and nonbelievers.


“I learned so much about different cultures, different religions, and they learned a lot from me,” he said. “I am very optimistic about the future of the church to be more open.”

Bucher is one of the 305 young adults participating in a weeklong meeting designed to allow practicing Catholics and others to provide input for Pope Francis and the world’s bishops, who will meet at a synod in October to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”

When he announced the pre-synod meeting last October, Pope Francis said it would be an opportunity for the church to listen to the hopes and concerns of “young Catholics, young Christians from other denominations or other religions and young nonbelievers.”

Bucher said he was moved by the openness of the young Christian delegates who listened to his perspective as an atheist.

“The best was that everyone was very keen on what I had to say, what people from the outside had to say, and they were all really kind,” he said. “So, you have no shame to talk about things. They were really accepting.”

The young Swiss delegate said he was surprised that, for many of the young delegates attending, it was their first time “speaking with someone with a nonreligious background.”

“‘Where do I get my morals from?’ for example, was the first question they asked,” Bucher told Catholic News Service. “I told them that it’s built upon human rights and ethical values and just that I think we should connect with each other, even if we are nonbelievers or believers.”

Bucher said that while he could not “speak for the church” about questions relating to evangelization or the liturgy, he focused his participation at the pre-synod meeting to strengthening dialogue.

In his native Switzerland, Bucher said he often engages in conversations with “a lot of clerics,” as well as his Catholic and Evangelical friends and that the pre-synod meetings encouraged him to continue along the path of dialogue.

“I think it’s very important because now I have more things that I know about the Catholic Church, and Catholics know more about nonbelievers. This is very important,” he said.

“It’s really important that this pre-synod happened, and it’s really one of the most important things I have had in my life,” he said.