Citing biblical scripture from the Gospel of Mark, Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned those who sought to drive a wedge between atheists and believers.
“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. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God,” he said according to Vatican Radio. “That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”
In the homily of his morning Mass, the Pope also added that nonbelievers could be redeemed through good works despite their lack of faith.
“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!” he said.
“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.”
It is not the first time Pope Francis has voiced solidarity with atheists. In March, he said atheists and nonbelievers could be “precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”
Father James Martin, a member of the Jesuit order, told the Huffington Post that such teachings had long been a part of the church.
“But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy,” he added. “And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”