Pope Francis: ‘The Church Is Not a Cage for the Holy Spirit’

Pope Francis prays during a mass on Christmas eve marking the birth of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2016 at St Peter's basilica in the Vatican. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

The Holy Spirit cannot be contained, and works in all people, including non-believers, pagans and people of other religions, Pope Francis told members of the Roman curia following a Lenten retreat in the central Italian town of Ariccia on Friday.

In the name of all participants, the pope thanked the preacher of the “spiritual exercises,” Father José Tolentino de Mendonça, the vice-rector of the Catholic University of Lisbon, for his enlightening words and helpful spiritual accompaniment during the retreat.

“Thank you for reminding us that the church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit, and that the spirit also soars outside and works outside her,” Francis said.

The Holy Spirit “works in non-believers, in the ‘pagans,’ in people of other religious denominations: he is universal, he is the spirit of God, which is for everyone,” he said.

Referring to biblical examples of the Spirit of God working in the pagans, the Pope said that even today there are other “Cornelius,” “Centurions,” “guards of Peter’s jail cell” who live an inner search or “even know how to distinguish when something calls to them.”

“Thank you for this call to open ourselves without fear, without rigidity, to be malleable in the spirit and not mummified in our structures that close us in,” he said.

Following biblical teaching, the Catholic Church teaches that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” All salvation comes through Jesus Christ since there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Catholics believe.

At the same time, “the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity,” the Church teaches.

Catholics believe that divine grace is active invisibly in the hearts of all men of good will. “For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”

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