Pope to atheist: all people can receive grace, seek the Good

Pope Francis at General Audience 9 25 13 05 Credit Elise Harris CNA Vatican Catholic News 9 25 13 Pope Francis at the General Audience Sept. 25 | Elise Harris/CNA.

Emphasizing that grace is available to all people, Pope Francis stressed dialogue and encounter rather than proselytism and underscored the need for each person to seek the Good while following his conscience.

"Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace," Pope Francis told Eugenio Scalfari, the atheist with whom he recently corresponded.

Scalfari conducted a Sept. 24 interview with the Pope at his Vatican residence, which was published Oct 1. in Italian daily La Repubblica.

Pope Francis shared St. Augustine's view of "the grace given by the Lord as a fundamental element of faith. Of life. Of life's meaning."

He explained that the saint's "insight" was that being touched by grace fundamentally changes, affects a person: "Who is not touched by grace may be a person without blemish and without fear, as they say, but he will never be like a person whom grace has touched."

From there, Scalfari asked Pope Francis if he himself feels touched by grace. The Roman Pontiff replied, "No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness, it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason."

Pope Francis added that grace can be given to those without faith, those who do not believe, because "grace has to do with the soul." Although Scalfari said he does not believe in the soul, the Pope said, "You do not believe in it but you have one."

Scalfari responded by revisiting their mutual admission that neither of them were trying to convert the other, which allowed a discussion of the nature of dialogue and inter-personal relationship.

"Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense," said Pope Francis. "We need to get to know each other, to listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us."

Following an encounter with another person, the Pope said, he at times wants another encounter, because it has led to both new ideas and new needs in himself. "This is important: to get to know people, to listen, to expand the circle of ideas."

Pope Francis said that "the important thing" is that the world's many paths should "lead towards the Good."

When Scalfari questioned whether there is a single vision of the Good, the Roman Pontiff responded, "Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good."

He affirmed that each person must follow his conscience, saying, "Everyone has an idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight the evil as he or she understands it. That would be enough to improve the world."

The two were able to agree that love for other people must come to surpass the love of self in men's hearts.

Pope Francis pointedly asked Scalfari about what he believes, regarding "the essence of the world" and questions of man's nature: "who we are, where we come from, where we are going."

"I believe," Scalfari answered, "in Being, that is, in the fabric from which forms, bodies arise. He went on to say that he considers Being to be "a fabric of energy" which is indestructible and eternally chaotic, and that in human beings there is a resonance of this chaos.

Pope Francis responded by saying that Being is God the Father, who is "the light and the Creator."

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"God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us."

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