As Pope Francis visited a local community over the weekend, he took questions from the parishioners, and one of the young boys in the front row couldn’t quite vocalize his question because he was crying.
As it turns out, the young boy, Emanuele, had lost his father. Obviously emotional, Emanuele had a difficult time speaking up, so the Pope summoned him forward. He then asked the boy if he could relay the question to the crowd, to which he agreed.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange, as reported by Aleteia.org
Emanuele: I can’t do it!
Pope Francis: Come, come to me, Emanuele! Come to me and whisper it in my ear. Whisper it in my ear. Come, come, come to me.
[Emanuele goes to Pope Francis and whispers his question in his ear]
Pope Francis: If only all of us could cry like Emanuele when we feel sorrow like he does in his heart. He was crying for his dad, and he had the courage to do it before all of us, because he has love for his dad in his heart. I asked Emanuel permission to repeat his question in public, and he said yes. So I’ll say it out loud: “A short time ago, my dad died. He was an atheist, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is Dad in heaven?” What a beautiful thing, that a son says of his father, “He was good.” That man gave a beautiful testimony to his children, for his children to be able to say, “He was a good man.” It’s a beautiful testimony on the part of the son that he has inherited his dad’s strength, and also, that he has had the courage to cry before all of us. If that man was capable of raising children like this, it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man. That man didn’t have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart. And [Emanuele] is doubting whether or not his dad, not having been a believer, is in Heaven. God is the one who decides who goes to heaven. But how does God’s heart react to a Dad like that? How? What do you think? … A dad’s heart! God has the heart of a father. And faced with a dad, a non-believer, who was able to have his children baptized and to give them that courage, do you think that God would be capable of leaving him far from Him? Do you think so? … Say it loudly, with courage…
Pope Francis: Does God abandon his children?
Pope Francis: Does God abandon His children when they are good?
Pope Francis: There you go, Emanuele, this is your answer. God surely was proud of your dad, because it’s easier to have your children baptized when you are a believer, than to have them baptized when you are not a believer. Surely, this pleased God greatly. Talk with your father, pray to your father. Thank you, Emanuele, for your courage.
We’ve spoken about his dad, and our dad is God. Let us all pray to our dad, God.
And now I’ll give you the blessing. May every one of you think of the people you love, the people who care about, the people who care about you, and also those we don’t like and who are a bit like enemies. Let us pray for them too, so the Lord will bless them too. May He bless all of us and enlighten our heart.
This is certainly a controversial approach that many will take issue with.
If someone asks you what you need to believe in order to be saved, and you only had the Pope’s answer above, it would certainly seem like you can believe anything so long as you are a “good” person.
This sort of thinking obviously appears to contradict the central tenet of Christianity, in which we believe that we are all sinners, the punishment for sin is death, and the only way to be spared from this punishment is by believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that He died on the cross in order to pay the ransom for our sins.
Acts 16:31 says “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” while Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Perhaps the most clear expression of this came directly from Jesus, who said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Because the boy is grieving, the Pope appears to have taken an easy path to provide a feel good answer, when the reality is unfortunately most likely a difficult reality.
Unless there’s some nuance lost in translation, and the Pope was trying to be graceful in explaining that only God knows our hearts, and that because the man brought his children to be baptized that he did indeed believe.
While it is not helpful to be cruel to people who are suffering, it is also not helpful to present a false gospel. Either way, pray for this boy and his family as they grieve the loss of their father – and let’s hope that he did indeed repent before it was too late.