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Pope Francis urges Roman Curia to confront the 'ecclesial crisis'

Pope Francis urged the Roman Curia Monday not to view the Church in terms of conflict, but to see the current “ecclesial crisis” as a call to renewal.

In his annual Christmas speech to the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia, the pope stressed that this Christmas marks a time of crisis for society and for the Church.

“The Church is always an earthen vessel, precious for what it contains and not for the way it may appear. … This is a time when it seems evident that the clay of which we are made is chipped, damaged and cracked,” Pope Francis said Dec. 21.

The pope told the Roman Curia gathered in the Apostolic Palace: “If a certain realism leads us to see our recent history only as a series of mishaps, scandals and failings, sins and contradictions, short-circuits and setbacks in our witness, we should not fear. Nor should we deny the evidence of everything in ourselves and in our communities that is evidently tainted by death and calls for conversion.”

“Everything evil, wrong, weak and unhealthy that comes to light serves as a forceful reminder of our need to die to a way of living, thinking and acting that does not reflect the Gospel. Only by dying to a certain mentality will we be able to make room for the newness that the Spirit constantly awakens in the heart of the Church,” he said.

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The pope has often used his annual Christmas address to the curia to give his perspective on the implementation of curial reform thus far and his vision for the coming year. This year, he stressed that there is a crisis that is calling the Church to renewal. The pope used the word “crisis” 44 times in his speech to the Roman Curia.

“Every crisis contains a rightful demand for renewal,” Pope Francis said.

“If we really desire renewal, though, we must have the courage to be completely open. We need to stop seeing the reform of the Church as putting a patch on an old garment, or simply drafting a new Apostolic Constitution. The reform of the Church is something else.”

Pope Francis said that throughout the history of the Church there has been a “newness born of crisis and willed by the Spirit” that is best explained by the words of Jesus: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

He added that it is “never a newness opposed to the old, but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful.”

“We are not called to change or reform the Body of Christ – ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever’  – but we are called to clothe that Body with a new garment, so that it is clear that the grace we possess does not come from ourselves but from God.”

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The pope warned that crisis must not be confused with conflict, which he said “always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight.”

He said: “Conflict always tries to find ‘guilty’ parties to scorn and stigmatize, and ‘righteous”’ parties to defend, as a means of inducing … a sense that certain situations have nothing to do with us.”

“When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict – right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist – she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her true nature,” Pope Francis said.

At another point in the speech, Pope Francis added as an aside: “I am reminded of what that holy Brazilian bishop said: ‘When I take care of the poor, they say of me that I am a saint; but when I ask and I question: 'Why so much poverty?' They call me 'Communist'’.

“Conflict ... is a false trail leading us astray … aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil,” he said. “The first evil that conflict leads us to, and which we must try to avoid, is gossip ... idle chatter, which traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption, and transforms every crisis into conflict.”

The pope said that the right approach to renewal is “like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old,” quoting chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew.

“That treasure is Tradition, which, as Benedict XVI recalled, ‘is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present, the great river that leads us to the gates of eternity,’” Pope Francis said.

“The ‘old’ is the truth and grace we already possess. The ‘new’ are those different aspects of the truth that we gradually come to understand … No historical form of living the Gospel can exhaust its full comprehension. If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, we will daily draw closer to ‘the whole truth’”.

“Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, we can even start to imagine a ‘synodal’ Church that, rather than being inspired by communion, ends up being seen as just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities -- like a parliament, for example, and this is not synodality -- Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes the difference,” he added.

Pope Francis said that in this “Christmas of the pandemic” there is a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, and “an ecclesial crisis.”

“What should we do during a crisis? First, accept it as a time of grace granted us to discern God’s will for each of us and for the whole Church. We need to enter into the apparent paradoxical notion that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong,’” he said.

Pope Francis urged that “we must not tire of praying constantly” during a time of crisis. “We know of no other solution to the problems we are experiencing than that of praying more fervently and at the same time doing everything in our power with greater confidence. Prayer will allow us to ‘hope against all hope.’”

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He said: “The voice of God is never the tumultuous voice of the crisis, but rather the quiet voice that speaks in the crisis.”

Pope Francis spoke to the cardinals and supervisors of the departments in the Roman Curia inside the Vatican’s Hall of Blessing, a location chosen to provide more space for social distancing. The pope spoke in front of a large tapestry depicting the nativity of Christ in the Apostolic Palace. Poinsettia arrangements and Christmas trees with large wooden ornaments flanked him on either side.

He said: “God continues to make the seeds of his kingdom grow in our midst. Here in the Curia, there are many people bearing quiet witness by their discreet, unassuming, faithful, honest and professional work. There are many of you, thank you.”

“Our times have their own problems, yet they also have a living witness to the fact that the Lord has not abandoned his people. The only difference is that problems immediately end up in the newspapers … while signs of hope only make the news much later, if at all.”

The pope announced that he will give each member of the Roman Curia a biography of Blessed Charles de Foucauld as a Christmas gift, along with another book by Biblical scholar Gabriele M. Corini.

He added: “Allow me to ask expressly of all of you, who join me in the service of the Gospel, for the Christmas gift of your generous and whole-hearted cooperation in proclaiming the Good News above all to the poor.”

Pope Francis said that the hope for the world found “its most glorious and and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their glad tidings: ‘A child has been born unto us.’”

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