(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, September 11 - Pope Francis said that even non-believers are eligible for God's mercy in a letter to the founder of Italy's daily paper La Repubblica published on Wednesday. Francis, whose papacy is ever-more characterized by his charismatic approach and no-bars-held style of communication, was responding to an August 7 editorial on faith and secularism by the paper's founder Eugenio Scalfari that asked "if the Christian God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith". Scalfari's editorial last month posed the questions, "Does God forgive non-believers? Does absolute truth exist? Is God merely a creation of the human mind?". In another series of pontifical 'firsts', Pope Francis stepped up to the plate to answer Scalfari's questions directly by taking pen to paper and writing a letter to La Repubblica. The daily dedicated cover space and three inside pages to the pope's letter that began with "Esteemed Dr. Scalfari, it is with heartfelt appreciation that...I will try to answer your letter that enriched the pages of this same newspaper with your personal reflection". Veteran commentator Scalfari wrote in an accompanying editorial entitled 'Lost Sheep' that he had not expected the pope to respond "so extensively and so affectionately with such fraternal spirit". "Perhaps it is because the lost sheep merits more attention and assistance?," Scalfari wrote. Francis wrote that "God's mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart. The key issue for non-believers is that of "obeying their consciences" when faced with choices of good or evil. Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience. "Thank you especially for the attention you dedicated to reading Lumen Fidei," Francis wrote to Scalfari. Pope Francis's first encyclical, which was co-written with his predecessor Benedict XVI, "Lumen Fidei", was published in July. Lumen Fidei is directed towards not only those who are believers in Jesus, but it also seeks to open a sincere dialogue with "those like yourself who define themselves as non-believers but for many years have been interested in and fascinated with Jesus of Nazareth's teachings," the pope wrote to Scalfari. "It was precisely....from my personal experience of faith lived through the Church that I am comfortable listening to your questions and ready to seek, together with you, the road along which we can perhaps begin to walk together," Francis said. The letter that the pope wrote is yet "further proof of his ability and desire to overcome barriers in dialogue with all and his search for peace, love and testimony," Scalfari wrote. Italy's atheist association on Wednesday said that what interested non-believers was the "concrete application of dialogue and understanding" for much discussed social and political issues. "What interests non-believers is beyond the nice words and declarations of intent, and is certainly not 'forgiveness' from an entity whose existence we do not trust or presumed salvation," the group said. The group underlined that what they held as important, instead, is "that representatives of those religious concepts apply them". Since assuming the papacy, the pope has written heartfelt letters to world leaders like Vladimir Putin, personally telephoned comfort-seekers like an Argentine rape victim and reached out to embrace disenfranchised immigrants and impoverish people in Italy and throughout his travels to date.
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