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Pope Francis Warns: Haters Should Not Go to Church

Pope Francis gestures upon his arrival in St Peter's square at the Vatican on September 11, 2013, for his weekly general audience. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Pope Francis had some hard words for those who spend time in church but hate other people, urging them to stay away from church and live like atheists rather than cause scandal.

During his first general audience of the new year Wednesday, the pope told the crowds in Saint Peter’s Square that there are people who compose “atheistic prayers” far from God in order to be admired by other people.

Reflecting on Jesus’ advice to his disciples to avoid falling into the error of hypocrites who pray in public in order to be seen and admired, Francis said that often “we see the scandal of people who go to church and spend all day there or go every day and then live their lives hating other people or speaking badly of others. This is a scandal!”

“Better, do not go to church. Live like that, as if you were an atheist,” he said.

“But if you go to church, live like a son or daughter, like a brother or sister, and bear true witness, not a counter-witness,” he said.

In the past, the pope has often said that the church should welcome all people, especially sinners, because it is a “field hospital.”

“Jesus did not set up a Church made up of good and righteous people, but of those who are weak and sinners who have experienced the mercy of God and seek to live his will through the paths of their daily life,” Francis said in August 2017.

“Therefore, the primary and fundamental mission of the Church is to be a ‘field hospital,’ a place of healing, mercy and forgiveness, and to be the source of hope for all suffering, the desperate, the poor, the sinners, and the discarded,” he said.

In his address Wednesday, the pope told the crowds that a Christian “is not somebody who strives to be better than others, because he knows he is a sinner like everybody else.”

“The Christian is simply the person who stands in front of the new burning bush,” he said, “the revelation of a God who does not carry the enigma of an unpronounceable name, but who asks his children to invoke him by the name of ‘Father,’ to be renewed by his power and reflect a ray of his goodness to this world so thirsting for goodness, so anxious for good news.”

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