Pope Francis' recent comments on atheists are good PR for the church
I’m currently in the midst of finishing a story on how young adult Catholics feel about being public with their faith. In nearly every conversation with other Catholics in their 20s and 30s, I have encountered two sentiments before I even have the chance to ask questions that would lead to these sentiments:
- Young adult Catholics are frustrated with the moments that church leadership, usually bishops, seem to think are the crucial for representing the Catholic Church in the United States. Usually these moments are related to politics, especialy legislation having to do with same-sex marriage. Some with whom I’ve spoken would even say they agree with the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage. No matter the position, they are tired of the bishops raising their voices louder when they talk about “pelvic issues” than when they talk about social issues.
- In Pope Francis, young adult Catholics see someone who is finally calling attention to the church’s gospel message to serve the poor. (They also attribute what seems to be the general public's increasing awareness of this tradition to the Nuns on the Bus  campaign.)
This morning, I rolled my eyes at the breathlessness of some media outlets and people I follow on Twitter over Pope Francis’ recent comments about the relationship between the people of faith and atheists.  Commenting to a friend, I sighed. "No duh." We don’t believe that we’re the sole keepers of God’s work in the world and that outside of the church, it doesn’t exist. Vatican II confirmed in that in Lumen Gentium,  which affirms that “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them by the dictates of their conscience.”
My friend reminded me that the fact we’ve long believed this as a church doesn’t matter. What matters to the world right now is the pope, the most public representative of our faith, chose to emphasize this message, that we must all stand in solidarity for the common good, regardless of whether we define ourselves in terms of a faith tradition or do not.
Pope Francis' comments are what young adults want their public representative to be saying, because he is sending a loud message about who God stands for, which is everyone.