In his latest engagement with the world, Pope Francis today has a letter in the liberal Italian daily La Repubblica, responding to questions posed over the summer by its atheist founder and former editor Eugenio Scalfari. Scafari had been moved to write by the Francis-Benedict encyclical, Lumen fidei (Light of Faith).
The letter, not yet translated into English but summarized well by RNS’ Alessandro Speciale, allows that non-believers can rely on their conscience to distingish right from wrong. While denying that truth is relative or subjective, Francis sees it as not as a Platonic form unfettered to human circumstance but as relational — intimately tied to the our lives and the roads we travel.
More than anything else, the letter conveys Francis’conception of the place of his church in the world. In his view, the history of the West is built on the idea that the religious is separate from the political sphere.
The Church, in fact, is called to sow the leaven and the salt of the Gospel, and that is the love and mercy of God that reach all men, pointing to the afterlife and the endpoint of our own destiny, while civil society and policy undertakes the daunting task of articulating and embodying in justice and solidarity, in law and in peace, an ever more human way of living. For those who live the Christian faith, that does not mean escape from the world or the search for hegemony of some sort, but service to mankind, to the whole man and all men, starting from the periphery of history and keeping awake the sense of hope that drives to do good in spite of everything and always looking beyond.
That combination of humility and spiritual engagement is the early signature of this papacy.