Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Catholic World News News Feature

Pope meets Curia, surveys 2005 December 23, 2005

In a traditional pre-Christmas meeting with the leaders of the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI revealed that he felt a "great fear" when he was elected on April 19, particularly because he would be following in the footsteps of a beloved figure.

In a lengthy talk to his Vatican colleagues, the Pope concentrated on the legacy of Pope John Paul II and the teachings of Vatican II, saying that the record of the late Pontiff, and the proper interpretation of the Council, provide the best guidance for the Church today.

[The full text of the Holy Father's address is available in English translation on the AsiaNews web site.]

The Pope met with Curial leaders in the Clementine room of the apostolic palace on December 22, for the traditional exchange of Christmas wishes. Pope Benedict used the occasion to look back across the past year, then forward to the future. The most memorable event of the year 2005, for the Catholic Church, was undoubtedly the death of John Paul II, the Pope said. He also mentioned World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, and the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, which was observed on December 8.

Regarding his predecessor, Pope Benedict remarked that no other Pontiff has ever written so much, nor traveled so frequently and "spoken directly to people on all continents." In his final days, the beloved Polish Pope taught the world in a different way, through his "journey of suffering and silence," he said.

The life of John Paul II was deeply marked by suffering, Pope Benedict reflected, including the suffering of his native Poland in World War II and totalitarian rule. The late Pope's view of the world was shaped by his acquaintance with suffering and evil, and his profound trust in divine mercy to overcome human weakness and misdeeds. Pope John Paul taught that humans must work to overcome evil and alleviate suffering, but he also urged believers 'to discover the meaning of suffering, to accept suffering and unite it to Christ's suffering." In his final days, Pope Benedict said, by his peronsal example Pope John Paul underscored that lesson, and the worldwide response to his death showed that his message had moved millions of people.

Turning to World Youth Day, which was held in Cologne in August, Pope Benedict said that the event was successfully organized around reverence for the Eucharist, in recognition of the Year of the Eucharist that Pope John Paul had declared. "It moves me to see how the joy of Eucharistic devotion is increasing throughout the Church," the Pope said.

Then Pope Benedict spoke about the 40th anniversary of Vatican II, and the proper understanding of Council teachings. One key problem, he observed, is the widespread and mistaken belief that Vatican II brought a "discontinuity and rupture" in Catholic teachings. That approach, he said, creates an artificial break, dividing the "pre-conciliar" and "post-conciliar" Church. In fact, the Pope insisted, Vatican II undertook a project of "reform and revival" in Church teaching, looking for new ways to express old truths.

Thus Vatican II should always be seen in continuity with the history of Church teaching, the Pope said. He added that "wherever this interpretation has been the guideline for the reception of the Council, new life has grown and new fruits have matured."

Even in areas where Vatican II appeared to break with past Church teachings and practices, the proper understanding of the Council suggests otherwise, Pope Benedict said. For example, he cited the Council's teaching on religious freedom and on relations between Church and state. By renouncing any ties to secular control and political power, he said, the Church "actually maintained and deepened her intimate nature and her true identity."

The Council did not resolve the profound questions about the relationship of the Church to the modern world, the Pope acknowledged. But continuing tensions are inevitable because the Church is always a "sign of contradiction." He stressed nonetheless that the Council is a valuable guide for pastors, and "if we read and accept it guided by a correct interpretation, it can become a great force in the ever necessary renewal of the Church."

Cardinal Angelo Sodano responded to the Pope, in his capacity as Dean of the College of Cardinals, offering the best wishes of the Roman Curia. He said that Vatican officials are privileged to serve the successor to St. Peter. He observed that the lineage of the papacy runs back through "John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, and thus on through the centuries, right back to the humble fisherman of Galilee." That "mysterious chain," the Italian cardinal said, preserves and illustrates "the indefectible character of the Church of Christ."

After the exchange of discourses, the Pope spent another hour speaking to each official of the Roman Curia personally, exchanging Christmas greetings.