By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A person who helps others but does not worship God is a “good atheist,” while someone who claims to believe in God but does not do anything to help others “is a cynic, a liar,” Pope Francis said.
Meeting with a delegation from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the pope supported their proposal to launch a series of educational programs aimed at helping Christians and Jews in Latin America tap into their common spiritual heritage to become “agents of social change.”
Rabbi Ariel Stofenmacher, rector of the seminary, said in a statement that they saw Pope Francis as a key ally in harnessing religious teachings to combat indifference, the breakdown of the family, growing social conflicts, “the disenchantment with democracy,” hopelessness, addiction and “the madness of new wars.”
Speaking without a prepared text to the group Dec. 2, Pope Francis said he was not kidding when he told them that when a religious leader speaks of justice, echoing the prophets’ call to care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor — often detractors will “tell you that you are a communist. And look, they say to me: ‘This pope, instead of talking about God, is talking about social things.'”
But the two go together, he said. Throughout the Bible, believers are called to love God and love their neighbor, “that is, worship and serve, worship and help.”
Spiritual leaders must work to show people how “our faith becomes works and that our works lead us to faith. It’s a circle,” the pope said. “We have to emphasize it, because misinterpreting the things that we pastoral agents say is our daily bread: they take a little bit of what we said, and not everything, and they decontextualize it.”
Pope Francis also spoke to the delegation about the war in Ukraine, which “bothers me, it makes me suffer.”
Not only because it has pitted “brothers against brothers,” but also because “if no weapons were made for a year, hunger in the world would end.”
“A war is waged when an empire feels weak, then it kills to feel strong and to use the weapons it has” so that it can make new ones, he said. “It makes me suffer to see them testing those drones that they were sending around Ukraine, that they are testing new weapons at the expense of people dying.”
In the face of a “culture of cruelty,” Pope Francis pledged the Catholic Church would work with the Jewish community to promote the teaching of “our sacred books,” which insist God is the father of all people, therefore they are all brothers and sisters.