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In era of ‘epochal change,’ the Curia must change, Pope says in annual address

December 23, 2019

“Epochal changes” in culture and communication demand curial reform, so that the Church may more effectively carry out her mission of evangelization, Pope Francis told members of the Roman Curia on December 21 (video).

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The Pope made his remarks in one of the most anticipated annual papal addresses, the Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis began by thanking Cardinal Angelo Sodano for his 14 years of service as dean of the College of Cardinals. He called on members of the order of cardinal-bishops—that is, the cardinals who are traditionally titular bishops of Rome’s suburbicarian sees—to elect a new dean “who can carry this important responsibility full time.” (Eastern-rite cardinal-patriarchs are also members of the order of cardinal-bishops, but do not take part in the election of the dean.)

Commenting on St. John Henry Newman’s statement that “here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often,” Pope Francis said:

Naturally, he is not speaking about changing for change’s sake, or following every new fashion, but rather about the conviction that development and growth are a normal part of human life, even as believers we know that God remains the unchanging center of all things. For Newman change was conversion, in other words, interior transformation.

Calling for “a change that is grounded mainly in fidelity to the depositum fidei [deposit of faith] and the Tradition,” Pope Francis said that “the heart of the reform” addresses “the first and most important task of the Church, which is evangelization.” Thus, “it was decided to give the title Praedicate Evangelium [Preach the Gospel] to the new Apostolic Constitution being prepared on the reform of the Roman Curia. A missionary outlook.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pope continued, “were established in an age when it was easier to distinguish between two rather well-defined realities: a Christian world and a world yet to be evangelized.” The Pope added:

That situation no longer exists today … Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists! ... We are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith—especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West—is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.

Turning to the Dicastery for Communication and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Pope Francis said that the former (which unifies nine institutions) responds to epochal changes in communication, while the latter (which combined four institutions) responds to migration and other “changes that have taken place on the global level.”

“I would like to recall how important it is that development be integral,” the Pope commented. “The Church consistently affirms the grandeur of the vocation of all human beings, whom God has created in his image and likeness in order to form a single family. . . . The Gospel always brings the Church back to the mysterious logic of the incarnation, to Christ who took upon himself our history, the history of each of us. That is the message of Christmas. Humanity, then, is the key for interpreting the reform. Humanity calls and challenges us; in a word, it summons us to go forth and not fear change.”

As he has done in previous addresses, the Pope criticized rigidity:

There is a need to be wary of the temptation to rigidity. A rigidity born of the fear of change, which ends up erecting fences and obstacles on the terrain of the common good, turning it into a minefield of incomprehension and hatred. Let us always remember that behind every form of rigidity lies some kind of imbalance. Rigidity and imbalance feed one another in a vicious circle. And today this temptation to rigidity has become very real.

Recalling Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan (1927-2012), Pope Francis concluded:

Cardinal Martini, in his last interview, a few days before his death, said something that should make us think: “The Church is two hundred years behind the times. Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage? Yet faith is the Church’s foundation. Faith, confidence, courage… Only love conquers weariness.”


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