Although I completely understand why so many here have misunderstood some of what the Pope has said here, he is not saying that atheists will go to Heaven or that they are saved. He is referring to redemption which is what Christ did for all so that all have a *choice* on whether to accept his salvation. Atheists are redeemed but they are not saved until they accept Christ. Again, I completely understand why so many think he is referring to salvation.
On the other hand, I find this homily troubling because it certainly seems to put atheists on the same level as Christians (and I won’t get into Protestants vs Catholics here). Unless I am completely misreading him, he refers to atheists as “children of God” and the Catholic Faith (as far as I know) refers to the Baptized as “Children of God” not all people everywhere. [I am not sure if the article in the OP quotes this part, but I have been involved in a few discussions on this homily so forgive me if it is not there].
So, as a practicing Catholic, I am more troubled by the fact that it appears that what he has said here doesn’t even jive with Catholic teaching. Maybe I am wrong, but I’m pretty sure you don’t become a child of God without baptism.
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Father, the atheists? Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, 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. But I dont believe, Father, I am an atheist! But do good: we will meet one another there.
If we are all a unique creation of the Father, and if His sacrifice was once, and for all, then why are we not all children of God?
In my opinion, I think you are pretty close in your interpretation. I would add that generally speaking, we have opportunities of grace, and a desire to do good, as inspiration from God.
Should an atheist seek to feed the poor and bury the dead, we should rejoice and commend them. They are responding to God’s call to charity.
Let us hope in doing so, the atheist will be more open to the reality of God and draw closer to Him.
We would all do well to remember that who goes to Heaven is a Management decisions. Those of us on Earth are merely in Sales.
My take is the Pope is looking for a starting point - Charity and Goodwill first and faith will grow from there. If one looks to do good (with the implication they will reject evil), then the 'faith of a mustard seed' can be planted.
Looking at 12 step programs, I see this all the time - they all are programs of repentance. I believe once started, the Lord will guide us to eternal life, thus salvation - whatever we call Him.
BTW. the 'heaven' in the title is from the source, catholic.org - that's why I added salvation to the keywords.