On Wednesday during his morning address, recently appointed Pope Francis surprised almost everyone by stating, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just the Catholics. Everyone!”
He continued: “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.”
Pope Francis was appointed to the papacy in March of this year, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Unlike his predecessor, who many Catholics praised for upholding a traditional Catholic papacy, Pope Francis has emphasized that his priorities are helping the poorest of the world’s poor. Since his appointment a little over two months ago, he has put away the ornate garments and solid gold crucifix of Pope Benedict’s papacy, instead spending his time addressing ambassadors on corporate greed and the tyranny of free-market capitalism, combining Jesus’s teachings and morality with ideas of economic justice.
Today is not the first time that the recently appointed Pope has discussed atheism — as long as it is paired with good will and good deeds — in a positive light. In March, during the first week of his papacy, he made headlines by addressing journalists saying, “We also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying followers of any religious tradition are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the goodness and the beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.”
Additionally, Francis has frequently both implicitly and explicitly stated that religious divisions matter less to him than most Catholics — even going so far as to express that they are toxic, causing more overall violence than good. Instead of upholding Catholicism as the religious ideal for redemption, he is extending the ideals of Christianity into the broader realm of morality and justice accessible by all believers and non-believers alike.