Pope Francis’ Generosity towards ‘ non-believers’

Child asks Pope if atheist father is in heaven

A child has asked Pope Francis if his atheist father is in heaven.

Francis was visiting a parish on the outskirts of Rome when the child put the question to him.

Francis routinely holds question-and-answer sessions with young people when he visits parishes.

The child (whose name is Emanuele) was in tears when he asked Francis the question.

“If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has,” the pope told the children.

“He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father.”

After gaining Emanuele’s permission, Francis told the other children what Emanuele had said –

“‘A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptised. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?’”

“How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, ‘He was good,’” the pope said.

“And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us.

“If that man was able to make his children like that, then it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man.

That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptised. He had a good heart,” Pope Francis said.

“God is the one who says who goes to heaven,” the pope explained.

The next step in answering Emanuele’s question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has.

“What do you think? A father’s heart. God has a dad’s heart.

“And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptised his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?”

“Does God abandon his children?” the Pope asked. “Does God abandon his children when they are good?”

The children shouted, “No.”

“There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the Pope told Emanuele.

“God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptise your children than to baptise them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.”


What would Jesus have said/done – in this situation where a boy asks about the situation of his dead father. He obviously was not a believer – yet he had his children baptised.

Pope Francis’ reaction to this question – with all the law-making tradition of the Catholic Church under his jurisdiction – intimates that God recognises the good that other people see in a person as a platform for their eternal salvation.

Makes one think, doesn’t it? Especially in the light of the squabbles currently underway in our Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand and Polynesia on the felicity of ‘Blessing Same-Sex Unions of monogamously-related same-gender partnerships in our Church.

The question raised here is: Is God more generous with sinners than the Church gives God credit for? Obviously, Pope Francis believes so and is not afraid to challenge the religious lawmakers of his own Church on the question of who is and who is not saved.

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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