People of other faith and of no faith are as capable of doing good as devout Catholics said Pope Francis this week.

Performing ‘good works’ is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet, he said.

According to the Huffington Post, in a private homily this week Francis pointedly referred to non-Catholics and non-believers, saying ‘if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.’

Francis’ remarks are being interpreted by some observers as a sign that non-belief - atheism, humanism and other forms of free thought - are finally being normalized, while others claim it underlines what they have known all along: having no faith does not mean having no morality.

‘We are a community that is just trying to do good and live good lives, just like most communities are,’ said Greg Epstein, Harvard University’s Humanist chaplain. ‘His statement is an acknowledgment of that. It is welcome and it is gratifying.’

Dale McGowan’s Foundation Beyond Belief collects funds from nonbelievers and distributes them to charities and relief organizations, also organizing teams of secular volunteers. To date, Foundation Beyond Belief has raised more than $35,000 for victims of the Oklahoma tornado.

‘Anything that decreases the mistrust and fear between people is a good thing,’ he said. ‘Some people might say it contradicts past statements (of other popes), but I don’t care about any of that. It is terrific when a position evolves to where we can put division behind us, and this is an example of that and I think it is great.’

Benedict XVI was a vocal opponent of secularism and atheism.

In his homily Francis said all people, ‘even the atheists,’ are ‘redeemed’ through ‘the Blood of Christ.’  The inclusion of atheists in a belief they do not share seemed to raise few hackles.

‘He was using his own language and speaking from his own beliefs,’ McGowan told the Huffington Post. ‘That is not the point. The point is he is saying, ‘I don’t fear you,’ and I think that is a lovely thing.’