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article imagePope Francis says atheists who do good are redeemed too

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 25, 2013 in World
Rome - Pope Francis caused mild surprise when he said in a homily he delivered on Wednesday that everyone is redeemed through Jesus, even atheists. He urged people of different beliefs and backgrounds to work together.
According to Vatican Radio, the the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said at a daily morning Mass at his residence during which he speaks extempore that not only Catholics can be good people, even atheists can be good if they strive to do good.
His statement challenges the notion among believers that only people of their religious faith can be good before God. Pope Francis suggested that doing good was a place where believers and non-believers could meet on common grounds being a principle not exclusively a matter of faith but of "duty." The pope described "doing good" as an identifier that our "Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness."
The pope used the Gospel of Mark to support the idea that "doing good" is a principle common to all humanity. According to the Vatican Radio, he told the story of how Jesus' disciples were upset when they saw a man who was not one of their group "doing good." Francis said: "They (the Apostles) complain [saying]... If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.”
But Jesus corrected them, saying: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good."
According to Francis, the Apostles were "a little intolerant" and thought that only those of their group could be good, believing that "those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” The pope continued: “This was wrong... Jesus broadens the horizon... The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation."
Pope Francis added: "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... 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!... 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.”
Father James Martin, S.J., responding to the pope's message, told The Huffinton Post: "Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That's always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a 'ransom for all.' But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it's a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories."
However, those who believe that only Christians are "saved" would disagree with the pope. Debate over whether people are saved by faith (in Christ) or whether by "works" goes back to the first century of the Christian faith. The controversy was first addressed by the so-called Jerusalem Council. The Apostle Paul, seizing on the decision of the Council later declared that "we are not saved by works, but through faith in Christ."
However, some, including atheists, humanists and freethinkers have welcomed the statement. USA Today reports that Dale McGowan of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a charitable organization, said: "Anything that decreases the mistrust and fear between people is a good thing. Some people might say it contradicts past statements (of other popes), but I don't care about any of that. It is terrific when a position evolves to where we can put division behind us, and this is an example of that and I think it is great."
Gowan, echoing the views of critics, said "'He was using his own language and speaking from his own beliefs,'... That is not the point. The point is he is saying, 'I don't fear you,' and I think that is a lovely thing.''
According to USA Today, Greg Epstein, Harvard University's Humanist chaplain, and author of "Good Without God," said: "We are a community that is just trying to do good and live good lives, just like most communities are. His statement is an acknowledgment of that. It is welcome and it is gratifying."
D.J. Grothe, a skeptic and president of James Randi Education Foundation, said the pope's message was reminiscent of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and described it as "refreshing." He said: "I don't see that disdain for nonbelief that was so apparent before. He is really talking about what I would call humanism — the ethical approach to making the world a better place without recourse to supernatural beliefs."
Observers like Grothe draw a contrast between Francis' reaching out to atheists and people of other faith and the position of his predecessor Benedict XVI, who was criticized for an attitude that suggested non-believers were "second-class."
According to USA Today, Benedict XVI was a vocal opponent of secularism.
Pope Francis' message follows release of a footage taken in St Peter's Square that appeared to show him performing an exorcism ritual on a disabled man after Pentecostal mass Sunday (see video).
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