Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world, said that non-Catholics and atheists can do good and that God has redeemed everyone, in a recent speech that is making waves.
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace.
"If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: we will meet one another there," the pope said during Mass on Wednesday at the Domus Santae Martae in the Vatican.
The Roman Catholic Church leader added that doing good "is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions," the Vatican Radio shared.
He criticized believers who insist that no one outside their faith can do good things, and said that people should not become "closed off by the idea of possessing the truth."
"They complain," the Pope said in his homily, "'If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.' And Jesus corrects them: 'Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.'"
The Vatican leader continued: "The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. 'But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.' Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him."
Various news publications have tried to interpret Pope Francis' meaning in different ways, with some noting that his argument that atheists can still be considered good despite their lack of belief could be seen as problematic in some Christian circles.
The Catholic Archdiocese of New York shared with The Christian Post a reflection on Pope Francis' homily by Fr. Tom Rosica, a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil and CEO of of Salt and Light Television.
The Catholic priest offered that Pope Francis was not trying to start a theological debate, and reminded readers that it was important to remember that the Vatican leader was speaking to other Catholics and religious leaders during Mass, "offering reflections on the Word of God."
"His knowledge, rooted in deep, Catholic theology and tradition are able to be expressed in a language that everyone can understand and appropriate."
On the topic of salvation, Fr. Rosica added: "A non-Christian may reject a Christian's presentation of the gospel of Christ. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the person has truly rejected Christ and God. Rejection of Christianity may not mean the rejection of Christ. For if a given individual rejects the Christianity brought to him through the Church's preaching, even then we are still never in any position to decide whether this rejection as it exists in the concrete signifies a grave fault or an act of faithfulness to one's own conscience."
"We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity and who, in spite of a certain encounter with Christianity, does not become a Christian, is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God, or whether he has now entered upon the way of perdition."
Fr. Rosica, whose theological studies have taken him to Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt, has worked in Interreligious dialogue with Jews and Muslims for many years, and has engaged with atheists and agnostic in secular university campuses across Canada.
Fr. Rosica's full explanatory note on Pope Francis' homily can be read here.