Update (by Slogr Staff):
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, has posted a refutation of the Pope's assertion that anyone can go to heaven. The full text can be read here at Zenit.Org. The article contains several references to the Bible, and an explanation of the context in which the pope spoke and reads as follows:
"1) Always keep in mind the audience and context of Pope Francis’ daily homilies. He is first and foremost a seasoned pastor and preacher who has much experience in reaching people. His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate. He speaks in the context of the Mass, offering reflections on the Word of God. He is speaking to other Catholics and religious leaders. His knowledge, rooted in deep, Catholic theology and tradition are able to be expressed in a language that everyone can understand and appropriate. This is not a gift given to every pastor and theologian! Is it any wonder why so many people are drawn to Pope Francis’ words? Is it any wonder why so many ... read daily homilies of a Pope, discuss them and raise questions about what they read?
2) Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that 'God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!' Consider these sections of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that offer the Church's teaching on who will be 'saved' and how."
This clarification has sparked disappointment and ridicule among some, and questions about the Pope's infallibility among others. Also in question is how reliable (or canon) is it when a Friar corrects the Pope on a non-vatican website (the "explanatory note" was issued on Zenit.org, not Vatican.va, or www.news.va).
Since the beginning of time, religion and various religious organizations have existed for a number of purposes. Depending upon your beliefs, these reasons range from a blueprint on how one should live his or her life, a guidebook for finding some kind of inner peace, and most of all, the security that once you die, you don’t just cease to exist, but actually go somewhere better and more magical than wherever you ended up on this earth during this life.
It is this security that eases the fears of those uncertain and afraid of death and for the most part, is the primary force which many religions use to control their followers. For instance, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, God chooses 144,000 people to go to heaven. The requirements involve being a faithful Jehovah’s Witness up to the year 1935. After 1935, the rest of the faithful followers, get to spend eternity on earth, and the unfaithful are destroyed during the war of Armageddon.
As with most religions, Muslims also believe that a combination of good deeds, prayer, belief in the Quran, fasting, and belief in Allah are what are required to enter heaven. Christians and Catholics, for the most part, believe that in order to get in to heaven, you not only have to be a follower of the specific religion, but must believe in and be saved by Jesus.
This meant for most religions that if you were not part of their religion or a follower of the beliefs, you automatically went to Hell and would spend your afterlife not only in flames but eternally experiencing any number of painful and undesirable experiences. Recently, Pope Francis made a statement however, that atheists can go to heaven, too. Those who don’t believe in the church, God, Jesus, or anything Catholic, can indeed end up heaven, as long as they “do good”.
“But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist.’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”
Is this a game changer for religion? Is it possible that one day, we will focus on just being a good person and doing good things, rather than which group we grow up in or choose to be a part of? It isn’t so much that atheists really care what the Pope says, because many aren’t believers in heaven or hell anyway. And as somewhat of a contradiction, it was later clarified by the Vatican that those who have knowledge of the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
The more important take-away from the new Pope’s words however is that in the long run, it may be possible for religion to approach ideals that are more accepting and welcoming of everyone and just being a good person may have its rewards as well.