Pope Francis holds the pastoral staff as he leaves after celebrating a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, to mark Epiphany, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. The Epiphany day, is a joyous day for Catholics in which they recall the journey of the Three Kings, or Magi, to pay homage to Baby Jesus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis offered another gesture to Catholics who are estranged from the church, saying Monday he respects them but that God is waiting for them.
Francis made the comments after he celebrated Epiphany, a major Catholic feast day that recalls the visit to the infant Jesus Christ by three kings.
"I would like to tell all those who feel far from God and the church — and I say this respectfully to those who are afraid or indifferent: The Lord calls you and wants you to be part of his people and does so with great respect and love!" Francis said. "The Lord doesn't proselytize, he gives love and this love looks for you, waits for you — for you who don't believe or have drifted away. This is the love of God."
Francis has made a priority of reaching out to atheists and Catholics marginalized by their church, particularly gays. He has tasked priests, bishops and cardinals with going out to preach on the margins of society and not wait for the faithful to come back to the church.
Francis himself is leaving the Vatican on Monday to go visit a Rome church where parishioners are acting out Jesus' nativity scene.