Rome, Italy — During his address on Tuesday in celebration of the Feast of St. George, one of the central messages delivered by Pope Francis to the cardinals gathered was that “it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church.”
“The Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church,” he declared to the dozens present. “Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: ‘Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.'”
“And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging,” the pope continued. “This belonging to the Church is beautiful.”
During the brief address, Francis gave examples of the apostles who evangelized the world and endured persecution. In doing so, he continued to repeat his theme of the importance of the Church.
“Think of this Mother Church that grows, grows with new children to whom She gives the identity of the faith, because you cannot believe in Jesus without the Church,” he asserted. “Jesus Himself says in the Gospel: ‘But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.’ If we are not ‘sheep of Jesus,’ faith does not come to us. It is a rosewater faith, a faith without substance.”
“And let us think of the consolation that Barnabas felt, which is ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing,'” Pope Francis concluded. “And let us ask the Lord for this ‘parresia,’ this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward!”
“Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church,” he declared, adding, “and, as St. Ignatius said, ‘hierarchical and Catholic.’ So be it.”
Interpretation of the Pope’s message has been mixed.
“As a non-Roman Catholic, I take his words to mean the catholic (small c) church, not the Roman Catholic Church,” wrote one commenter named Megan. “If that is what he means, then he is 100% correct. Those who seek to follow Jesus by mixing Christian teaching with Buddhism or a neo-Pagan mélange of Christianity and a bunch of other weird beliefs are not going to find Christ and His salvation.”
“If anyone believes the Pope meant the Church as in the Body of Christ is wearing rose colored glasses,” asserted another named Hope. “It is well known the Catholic Church teaches they are the only true church.”
Catholic Online reporter Andrew Greenwell also agreed with the Roman Catholic insinuation of the message.
“In his short sermon on the Feast of St. George, Pope Francis spoke to the assembled Cardinals about the importance of the Church’s mission of evangelization, a mission that includes introducing people to the Catholic Church ‘because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church,'” he wrote.
Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Truth Ministries, a former Roman Catholic, said that certain key words in the address indicated that the Pope was referring to the Catholic religion.
“He must be referring to the Roman Catholic Church since he said, ‘the Mother Church which gives us the faith that is our identity,'” Gendron told Christian News Network. “So often when we witness to Catholics and ask if they are a Christian they say, ‘No, I am a Catholic.’ That is their identity. We know that the true Church does not give anyone faith. It is given by God as a gift of His grace.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “The Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, [is] considered as a mother in its functions of nourishing and protecting the believer.”
“The Pope’s words are doctrinally very difficult indeed,” a commenter with the screen name of Parasum stated. “If the Pope believes non-Catholics are heathens, fair enough – but then the problem arises: How does he propose to square that with the teaching and acts of his recent predecessors ?”
“So what does the Pope mean?” they asked. “On the face of it, it is impossible to give his words any meaning that is not a very bad one. If his words are patient of a good sense – what is that sense ? In their natural sense, they are simply untrue.”