Pope Francis has said atheists who are good are redeemed by Jesus in a homily urging that people of differing beliefs work together.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics made his comments at the morning Mass in his residence - a daily event where he speaks without prepared comments.
He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.
'Even them, everyone,' the Pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. 'We all have the duty to do good,' he said.
'Just do good and we'll find a meeting point,' the Pope said in a hypothetical conversation in which someone told a priest: 'But I don't believe. I'm an atheist.'
Francis's reaching out to atheists on Wednesday and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict.
He sometimes left non-Catholics feeling that he saw them as second-class believers.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Father James Martin explained Pope Francis' homily.
He said: 'Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone.... rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy.
'And in this era of religious controversies, it's a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.'
On Sunday, the Pope was captured on film performing an apparent exorcism.
Footage taken in St Peter's Square purported to show Pope Francis carrying out a ritual to liberate a young man from demons.
The disabled man went into a frenzy of convulsions and shook, then slumped as Francis prayed over him.
The Pontiff was introduced to two men in wheelchairs after Pentecostal mass on Sunday. When a priest leaned across to tell Francis something, the Pope's expression took on a serious tone.
Francis then took hold of the top of the man's head firmly, pushing him down into his wheelchair. As he delivered an intense prayer, the man's mouth dropped open and he heaved deeply half a dozen times, visibly shaking.
After the ritual Francis continued with his usual meetings with the sick who come to St Peter's.
Experts said the footage broadcast on the religious satellite channel TV2000's programme Vade Retro, shows the Pontiff reciting a prayer to drive evil spirits from the body.
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