By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
The Roman Curia is the administrative body of Holy See and the apparatus through which the Pope conducts the affairs of the Church in the world. Every year the Holy Father addresses its members just before Christmas in a traditional exchange of greetings. The occasion offers him the possibility to reflect on how the Curia works and on what he considers its priorities in the present context of the Church and world.
“Ad extra”: the Curia’s relationship with the outside world
Pope Francis’ wide-ranging discourse focused mainly on building bridges “ad extra” by reflecting on the Curia’s relationship with “nations, Particular Churches, Oriental Churches, ecumenical dialogue, Judaism, Islam and other religions – in other words, with the outside world”. Recognizing that the Curia is an “ancient, complex and venerable institution”, the Pope also spoke of the danger of becoming too “self-referential” and losing sight of the Church’s mission to be “in the world but not of the world and to be an instrument of salvation and service”.
“Martyrs of the system”
While recognizing the “vast majority of faithful persons” who work in the Curia with “commitment, fidelity, competence, dedication and great sanctity”, the Pope nonetheless had stern words for what he called “the cancer that leads to self-centeredness”. Specifically, he warned of the danger posed by those who “betray the trust put in them…failing to understand the lofty nature of their responsibility” and allowing themselves to be corrupted by ambition. They wrongly consider themselves to be “martyrs of the system”, he said, “rather than reciting a mea culpa”.
The Dicasteries of the Roman Curia are called to be like “sensitive antennae”, said Pope Francis, both sending and receiving: faithfully transmitting the will of the Pope while also grasping the “aspirations, questions, pleas, joys and sorrows of the Churches and the world” so that the Pope can better carry out his mission as the “visible source and foundation of unity both of faith and communion”.
Activities of the Roman Curia
The Pope then went on to examine in detail various areas of Curial activity, from relations with nations and the role played by Vatican diplomacy in building bridges of peace and dialogue, to its relationship with Dioceses and Eparchies. Here he spoke about his own preference for having what he called “open and sincere conversations” in his meetings with Bishops “that remain private and go beyond the formalities of protocol”. Pope Francis also described the relationship between Rome and the Oriental Churches as one of “mutual and spiritual enrichment” and confirmed the Curia’s commitment to ecumenical dialogue, to “untying the knots of misunderstanding and hostility and counteracting prejudices and fear of the other”.
Christmas as the Feast of Faith
Pope Francis concluded his reflections by speaking about Christmas as the Feast of Faith:
“A faith that does not trouble us is a troubled faith. A faith that does not make us grow is a faith that needs to grow. A faith that does not rouse us is a faith that needs to be roused. A faith that does not shake us is a faith that needs to be shaken. A faith that is only intellectual or lukewarm is only a notion of faith”.
Faith, he said, only becomes real “when it touches our heart, our soul, our spirit and our whole being”.