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Dec 23 14 2:42 AM
Pope's Address to Roman Curia
“Thou art above the Cherubim, Thou who hast changed the miserable
condition of the world when Thou made Thyself like us” (Saint Athanasius).
At the end of Advent we meet for the traditional greetings. In a few days we will have the joy of celebrating the Lord’s birth; the event of God who makes himself man to save men; the manifestation of the love of God who does not limit himself to give us something or to send us some message or some messengers, but gives himself to us; the mystery of God that takes our human condition and our sins on himself to reveal his divine life to us, his immense grace and his gratuitous forgiveness. It is the meeting with God who is born in the poverty of the cave of Bethlehem to teach us the power of humility. In fact, Christmas is also the feast of light that was not received by the “Chosen People” but by the “poor and simple people,” who awaited the Lord’s salvation.
First of all, I would like to wish you all – collaborators, brothers and sisters, papal representatives scattered throughout the world – and all your dear ones, a Holy Christmas and a happy New Year. I want to thank you cordially for your daily commitment at the service of the Holy See, of the Catholic Church, of the particular Churches and of the Successor of Peter.
We being persons and not numbers or just denominations, I remember in a special way those that, during this year, finished their service having reached the age limit or having taken on other roles or because they were called to the House of the Father. To all of them also, and to their families, go my thoughts and gratitude.
Together with you I wish to elevate to the Lord a heartfelt and profound gratitude for the year we are leaving behind, for the events lived and for all the good that He willed generously to fulfil through the service of the Holy See, asking Him humbly for forgiveness for the faults committed “in thoughts, words, deeds and omissions.”
And, in fact, beginning from this request for forgiveness, I would like our meeting and the reflections that I will share with you to become, for us all, a support and stimulus to a true examination of conscience to prepare our hearts for Holy Christmas.
Thinking of this, our meeting, there came to mind the image of the Church as “the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.” It is an expression that, as Pope Pius XII explained, “flows and almost sprouts from what is frequently exposed in Sacred Scripture and in the Holy Fathers.” In this connection, Saint Paul writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
In this connection, the Second Vatican Council reminds us that, “there is in the structure of the Mystical Body of Christ a diversity of members and of offices. The Spirit is one, who for the use of the Church distributes the variety of his gifts with magnificence proportioned to His richness and to the needs of the ministries (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11).” Therefore ‘Christ and the Church’ form the “total Christ.” [“Christus totus”]. The Church “is one with Christ.”
It is good to think of the Roman Curia as a small model of the Church, namely, as a “body” that seeks seriously and daily to be more alive, healthier, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.
In reality, the Roman Curia is a complex body, made up of many Dicasteries, Councils, Offices, Tribunals, Commissions and of numerous elements that do not all have the same task, but are coordinated for efficient, edifying, disciplined and exemplary functioning, despite the cultural, linguistic and national differences of its members.
In any case, the Curia being a dynamic body, it cannot live without being nourished and without taking care of itself. In fact, like the Church, the Curia cannot live without having a vital, personal, authentic and strong relation with Christ. A member of the Curia that does not nourish himself daily with that food will become a bureaucrat (a formalist, a functionalist, an employee): a shoot that dries up and little by little dies and is thrown away. Daily prayer, assiduous participation in the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, daily contact with the Word of God and spirituality translated into lived charity are the vital nourishment for each one of us. May it be clear to us all that without Him we can do nothing (Cf. John 15:8 ).
Consequently, the living relation with God also nourishes and reinforces communion with others, that is, the more we are profoundly joined to God the more we will be united among ourselves because the Spirit of God unites and the spirit of the Evil One divides.
The Curia is called to improve itself, to improve itself always and to grow in communion, holiness and wisdom to realize its mission fully. However, it, like every body, like every human body, is also exposed to sicknesses, to malfunctioning and to infirmity. And here I would like to mention some of these probable illnesses, curial illnesses – they are the more usual illnesses in our life of Curia. They are sicknesses and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord. I think a “catalogue” of illnesses will help us – following the way of the Desert Fathers who made those catalogues of which we speak today. It will help us to prepare ourselves for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which will be a good step for us all to prepare ourselves for Christmas.
1. The sickness of feeling oneself “immortal,” “immune” or in fact “indispensable,” neglecting the necessary and usual controls. A Curia that does not criticize itself, which does not update itself, which does not seek to improve itself is a sick body. An ordinary visit to cemeteries would help us to see the names of so many persons, some of whom thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable! It is the sickness of the foolish rich man of the Gospel who thought he would live eternally (Cf. Luke 12:13-21) and also of those who transform themselves into bosses and feel themselves superior to all and not at the service of all. This often stems from the pathology of power, of the “complex of the Elect,” of narcissism that looks passionately at its own image and does not see the image of God imprinted on the face of others, especially the weakest and neediest. The antidote to this epidemic is the grace to see ourselves as sinners and to say with all our heart: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
2. There is another: the sickness of “Martha-ism” (which stems from Martha), of excessive busyness: namely of those who immerse themselves in work, neglecting, inevitably, “the better part”: to be seated at Jesus’ feet (Cf. Luke 10:38-42). This is why Jesus called his disciples to “rest a while” (Cf. Mark 6:31), because to neglect necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. The time of rest, for one who has carried out his mission, is necessary, right and is lived seriously: in spending some time with relatives and in respecting holidays as moments for spiritual and physical recharging; we must learn what Quoleth teaches that “there is a time for everything” (3:1-15).
3. There is also the sickness of mental and spiritual “petrification”: namely those who have a heart of stone and a “stiff-neck” (Acts 7:51-60); those that, along the way, lose interior serenity, vivacity and daring and hide themselves under papers becoming “practice machines” and not “men of God” (Cf. Hebrews 3:12). It is dangerous to lose the necessary human sensibility to make us weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the sickness of those who lose “the sentiments of Jesus” (Cf. Philippians 2:5-11) because, with the passing of time, their heart is hardened and becomes incapable of loving unconditionally the Father and their neighbor (Cf. Matthew 22:34-40). To be Christian, in fact, means: “to have the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus, sentiments of humility and of self-giving, of detachment and generosity.”
4. The sickness of excessive planning and functionalism: When the apostle plans everything minutely and thinks that with perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming an accountant or a businessman. It is necessary to prepare everything well but without ever falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose and pilot the freedom of the Holy Spirit who remains always greater, more generous than any human planning (Cf. John 3:8 ). One falls into this sickness because “it is always easier and more comfortable to settle down in one’s own static and unchanging positions. In reality, the Church shows herself faithful to the Holy Spirit in the measure in which she does not have the pretext of regulating or domesticating Him. To domesticate the Holy Spirit … He is freshness, imagination, novelty.”
5. The sickness of bad coordination: when the members lose communion among themselves and the body loses its harmonious functioning and its temperance becoming an orchestra that produces noise because its members do not collaborate and do not live the spirit of communion and of team. When the foot says to the arm: ”I have no need of you,” or the hand to the head: “I command,” thus causing harm and scandal.
6. There is also the sickness of spiritual Alzheimer’s disease: namely the forgetfulness of the “history of Salvation,” of one’s personal history with the Lord, of one’s “first love” (Revelation 2:4). It is a progressive decline of the spiritual faculty which in a longer or shorter interval of time causes serious handicaps to the person, making him become incapable of carrying out an autonomous activity, living in a state of absolute dependence of his often imaginary views. We see it in those who have lost the memory of their encounter with the Lord; in those who do not make the Deuteronomic sense of life; in those that depend completely on their “present,” on their passions, whims and fixations; those who build walls and habits around themselves, becoming ever more slaves of idols that they have sculpted with their own hands.
7. The sickness of rivalry and vainglory: when appearance, the color of garments and signs of honor become the primary objective of life, forgetting Saint Paul’s words: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4). It is the sickness that leads us to be false men and women and to live a false “mysticism” and a false “Quietism.” Saint Paul himself describes them as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” because “they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).
8. The sickness of existential schizophrenia: it is the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that degrees and academic titles cannot fill. A sickness that often strikes those that, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic affairs, thus losing contact with the reality, with concrete persons, thus creating a parallel world for themselves where they put aside all that they severely teach others and they begin to live a hidden and often dissolute life. Conversion is all the more urgent and indispensable for this very serious sickness (Cf. Luke 15:11-32).
9. The sickness of gossip, of grumbling and of tittle-tattle: I have already spoken so many times of this sickness but never enough: it is a grave sickness that begins simply, perhaps just having two chats and then it takes hold of the person making him become a “sower of discord” (like Satan), and in many cases “murderer in cold blood” of the reputation of his colleagues and brothers. It is the sickness of guarded persons who, not having the courage to speak directly, speak behind one’s back. Saint Paul admonishes us: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent” (Philippians 2:14-18). Brothers, beware of the terrorism of gossip!
10. The sickness of divinizing directors: it is the sickness of those who court their Superiors, hoping to obtain their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and of opportunism, they honor persons and not God (Cf. Matthew 23:8-12). They are persons who live the service thinking only of what they must obtain and not of that what they must do. Mean, unhappy persons and inspired only by their own fatal egoism (Cf. Galatians 5:16-25). This sickness can also strike Superiors when they court some of their collaborators to obtain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the final result is a real complicity.
11. The sickness of indifference to others: when one thinks only of oneself and loses the sincerity and warmth of human relations. When the most expert does not put his knowledge at the service of colleagues who are less expert. When one acquires the knowledge of something and keeps it to himself instead of sharing it positively with others. When, because of jealousy or cunning, one feels joy in seeing the other fall instead of lifting him up again and encouraging him.
12. The sickness of the mournful face: namely of brusque and sullen persons, who believe that to be serious they must depend on a melancholy and severe face and treat others, especially those regarded as inferior – with rigidity, harshness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and of one’s own insecurity. The apostle must force himself to be a courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person who transmits joy wherever he is. A heart full of God is a happy heart that radiates and infects with joy all those around him: it is seen immediately! Therefore, let us not lose that joyful spirit, full of humor, and even self-critical, which renders us affable persons, also in difficult situations. How much good a good dose of humor does! It will do us much good to recite often the prayer of Saint Thomas More: I pray it every day, it does me much good.
13. The sickness of accumulating: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but only to feel secure. In reality, we can take nothing material with us because “the shroud does not have pockets” and all our earthly treasures – also if they are gifts – will never be able to fill that void, in fact, they will render it ever more exacting and more profound. To these persons, the Lord repeats: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked … Therefore, be zealous and be converted” (Revelation 3:17-19). Accumulation only weighs down and slows the inexorable journey! And I think of an anecdote: one time the Spanish Jesuits described the Society of Jesus as the “light cavalry of the Church.” I remember the transfer of a young Jesuit that while loading his many belongings on a truck: bags, books, objects and gifts, heard an old Jesuit who was observing him say, with a wise smile: is this the Church’s “light cavalry”?! Our transfers give a sign of this sickness.
14. The sickness of closed circles: where belonging to a little group becomes more important than that of belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ himself. This sickness also begins always with good intentions but with the passing of time enslaves the members, becoming “a cancer” that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes so much evil – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers. Self-destruction or “friendly fire” of fellow soldiers is the most deceitful danger. It is the evil that strikes from within and, as Christ says: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste” (Luke 11:17).
15. And the last one: the sickness of worldly profit, of exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into merchandise to obtain worldly profits or more powers. It is the sickness of persons who seek insatiably to multiply powers and for this purpose, they are capable of calumniating, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally to exhibit themselves and to show themselves more capable than others. This sickness also does much evil to the body because it leads persons to justify the use of any means so long as they reach their purpose, often in the name of justice and of transparency! And here there comes to mind the memory of a priest who called journalists to tell them (and to invent) private and reserved things about his fellow priests and parishioners. What mattered to him was only to see himself on the front pages, because in this way he felt “powerful and fascinating,” causing so much harm to others and to the Church. Poor thing!
Brothers, these sicknesses and these temptations are, naturally, a danger for every Christian and for every Curia, community, Congregation, parish, Ecclesial Movement, etc. and they can strike at the individual as much as at the communal level.
We must clarify that it is only the Holy Spirit – the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed affirms: “I believe … in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life” – to heal every infirmity. It is the Holy Spirit who supports every sincere effort of purification and every good will of conversion. He it is who makes us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the Body and in its weakening. He is the promoter of harmony: “ipse harmonia est,” says Saint Basil. Saint Augustine says to us: “While a part adheres to the body, its healing is not despaired of; instead, what was cut off cannot be taken care of or healed.”
Healing is also the fruit of the awareness of the sickness and of the personal and communal decision to be cured, enduring the cure patiently and with perseverance.
Therefore, in this Christmas season and for the whole time of our service and our existence, we are called to live “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Once I read that: “priests are like airplanes, they make news only when they fall, but there are so many that are flying. Many criticize and few pray for them.” It is a very nice phrase but also very true because it delineates the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service and how much evil one priest who “falls” can do to the whole Body of the Church.
Therefore, in order not to fall in these days in which we prepare for Confession, we ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, to heal the wounds of sin that each one of us bears in his heart and to support the Church and the Curia so that they are healthy and restored; holy and sanctifying, to the glory of her Son and for our salvation and that of the whole world. We ask her to make us love the Church as Christ loved her, her Son and our Lord, and to have the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners and in need of His Mercy and of not being afraid to leave our hands between her maternal hands.
Many good wishes for a Holy Christmas to you all, to your families and to your collaborators and, please, do not forget to pray for me! My heartfelt thanks!
Notes:1 He affirms that the Church, being Mystici Corporis Christi, “Also requires a multitude of members, who are so connected among themselves that they help one another mutually. And as in our mortal organism, when one member suffers, the others feel its pain and come to its aid, so in the Church the individual members do not live each one for himself, but give their help to others, offering themselves mutually in collaboration, be it for mutual comfort be it for an ever greater development of the whole Body … a Body constituted not by some mass of members, but which must be furnished with organs, namely with members who do not all have the same task, but are duly coordinated; thus the Church, because of this, must be called especially Body, because she is the result of a correct disposition and coherent union of members who are different among themselves,” Cf. “Mystici Corporis Christi, quod est Ecclesia”: AAS 35 (1943), 193-248.
2 Cf. Letter to the Romans 12:5: “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
3 Lumen Gentium, 7.
4To remember that “the comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him, she is united in him, in his body; Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ.” Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, N. 789 and 795.
5 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 130-131.
6 Many times Jesus made known the union that the faithful must have with Him: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:4-5).
7 Cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 1 and CIC can. 360.
8 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 197-201.
9 Benedict XVI, General Audience, June 1, 2005.
10 Francis, Homily of the Holy Mass in Turkey, November 30, 2014.
11 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 95-96.
12 Ibid., 84-86.
14 Lord, give me a good digestion and also something to digest. Give me health of body and the good humor necessary to maintain it. Give me, Lord, a simple soul that is able to make a treasure of all that is good and is not astonished in view of evil but rather always finds the way to put things back in place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs, laments, and do not permit me to trouble myself with that very cumbersome thing called “I.” Give me, Lord a sense of good humor. Grant me the grace to understand a joke to discover in life a bit of joy and make others part of it. Amen.
15 Evangelii Gaudium, 88.
16 Referring to the situation of the Church, Blessed Paul VI affirmed that he had the sensation that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan had entered the temple of God,” Homily of Paul VI, Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Thursday, June 29, 1972. Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 98-101.
17 Cf. Evangelii Gaudium: No to spiritual worldliness, N. 93-97.
18 ”The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. He gives life, arouses the different charisms that enrich the People of God and, above all, creates unity between believers: of many He makes one body, the Body of Christ … The Holy Spirit makes the unity of the Church: unity in faith, unity in charity, unity in interior cohesion.” (Francis, Homily of the Holy Mass in Turkey, November 30, 2014).
19 August. Serm., CXXXVII, 1; Migne, P.L. XXXVIII, 75$.
Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, Pastorale in conversione, n. 25-33.
Pope Francis' Address to Vatican Employees
It was pride that transformed angels into devils; it is humility that renders men like the angles (Saint Augustine).
Beloved men and women collaborators, good morning!
Beloved dependents of the Curia -- not disobedient of the Curia, as someone unwittingly described you, committing a press error!
A short time ago I met with the Heads of Dicasteries and Superiors of the Roman Curia for the traditional Christmas greetings, and now I meet with you, to express to each of you my gratitude and my most sincere wishes for a true Christmas of the Lord.
It is a statement of fact that the vast majority of you are of Italian nationality; therefore, allow me also to express a particular, and I would say, rightful thank you to the Italians who, in the course of the history of the Church and of the Roman Curia, have worked constantly with a generous and faithful spirit, putting their singular industriousness and filial dedication at the service of the Holy See and of the Successor of Peter, offering the Church great Saints, Popes, martyrs, missionaries, and artists, which no passing shadow of history will be able to obfuscate. Thank you so much!
I also thank the persons who come from other countries and who work generously in the Curia, far from their homelands and their families, representing for the Curia the face of the “catholicity” of the Church.
Having given an address to the Superiors of the Roman Curia, comparing it to a body that seeks always to be more united and more harmonious to reflect, in a certain sense, the Mystical Body of Christ, namely the Church, I exhort you paternally to meditate on that text, making it an idea of reflection for a fruitful examination of conscience in preparation for a Holy Christmas and New Year. I exhort you also to approach the Sacrament of Confession with a docile spirit, to receive the mercy of the Lord who knocks at the door of our heart, in the joy of the family!
I did not want to let this second Christmas of mine at Rome pass without meeting the persons who work in the Curia; without meeting the persons who work without letting themselves be seen and who describe themselves ironically as “the unknown, the invisible”; the gardeners, the cleaners, the ushers, the heads of offices, the lift-boys, the minute writers … and many, many others. Thank you for your daily commitment and your solicitous effort, the Curia expresses itself as a living body and underway: a real rich mosaic of different fragments, necessary and complementary.
Speaking of the Body of Christ, Saint Paul says that “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable – we think of the eyes -- and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor … But God has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12”21-25).
Beloved men and women collaborators of the Curia, thinking of Saint Paul’s words and of you, namely, of the persons that are part of the Curia and that render it a living, dynamic and well cared for Body, I wished to choose the word “care” as reference to this our meeting.
To care means to manifest eager and solicitous interest, which commits as much our mind as our activity to someone or something; it means to look attentively at someone in need of care without thinking of anything else; it means to accept and to give care. There comes to mind the image of a mother looking after her sick child, with total dedication, considering the child’s pain her own. She never looks at the clock, does not complain of not having slept the whole night, desires nothing other than to see him cured, whatever the cost.
In this time spent in your midst I have noted the care you give to your work; therefore, I thank you so much. However, allow me to exhort you to transform this Holy Christmas into a true occasion to “care” for every wound and to be “cured” of any lack.
Therefore I exhort you:
To take care of your spiritual life, your relation with God, because this is the vertebral column of all that we do and of all that we are. A Christian who does not nourish himself with prayer, the Sacraments and the Word of God, inevitably withers and dries up. Take care of the spiritual life;
To take care of your family life, giving your children and your dear ones not only money but, above all, time, attention and love;
To take care of your relations with others, transforming the faith into life and words into good works, especially towards the neediest;
To take care of your speech, purifying your tongue from offensive words, from vulgarities and from worldly decadent language;
To take care of wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forging persons who have wounded us and medicating the wounds we have caused others;
To take care of your work, completing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion, with a spirit that is able to thank the Lord;
To rid yourselves of envy, concupiscence, hatred and negative sentiments that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive persons;
To rid ourselves of rancor that leads us to revenge, and of sloth that leads us to existential euthanasia, of pointing the finger that leads us to pride, of constant complaining that leads us to despair. I know that sometimes, to keep one’s job, there is talk of someone, to defend oneself. I understand these situations, but that way does not end well. In the end we will all be destroyed among ourselves, and this we must not do, it is of no use. Rather, we should ask the Lord for the wisdom to be able to bite our tongue in time, not to say insulting words, which then leave your mouth bitter;
To take care of weak brothers: I have seen many beautiful examples among you in this, and I thank you, congratulations! Namely, take care of the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers because we shall be judged on this;
To take care that Holy Christmas is never a feast of commercial consumerism, of appearance and of useless gifts, or of superfluous waste, but that it is the feast of joy of receiving the Lord in the Crib and in the heart,
To take care -- to take care of so many things, each one of us can think: “What is the thing I must take care of most?” To think this: “Today, I will take care of this.” However, above all take care of the family! The family is a treasure; children are a treasure. A question that young parents can ask themselves: “Do I have time to play with my children, or am I always busy, busy, and have no time for the children?” I leave you with that question. To play with the children: it is so lovely. And this is to sow the future.
Beloved men and women collaborators,
Let us imagine how our world would change if every one of us began immediately, and here, to take care seriously and to take care generously of his relation with God and with his neighbor; if we were to put into practice the golden rule of the Gospel, proposed by Jesus in his discourse on the mountain: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12); if we looked at the other, especially the neediest, with the eyes of goodness and tenderness, as God looks at us, waits for us and forgives us; if we found in humility our strength and our treasure! And so often we are afraid of tenderness, we are afraid of humility!
This is a true Christmas: the celebration of the poverty of God who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Cf. Philippians 2:6); of God who served at table (Cf. Matthew 22:27); of God who hides himself from the wise and understanding and reveals himself to babes, to the simple and the poor (Cf. Matthew 11:25); of the “Son of man who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
However, above all it is the celebration of Peace brought on earth by the Baby Jesus: “Peace between heaven and earth, peace between all peoples, peace in our hearts” (Liturgical Hymn); the peace sung by the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will” (Luke 2:14).
Peace that is in need of our enthusiasm, of our care, to warm cold hearts, to encourage distrusting spirits and to illumine lifeless eyes with the light of the face of Jesus!
With this peace in the heart I would like to greet you and all your families. I also wish to say thank you to them and to give an embrace, above all to your children and especially the littlest ones!
I do not want to end these words of greetings without asking you for forgiveness for the failings, mine and my collaborators’, and also for some scandals, which do so much evil. Forgive me.
Happy Christmas and, please, pray for me!
Dec 23 14 3:04 AM
Facing entrenched opposition, Pope Francis plows ahead on Vatican reform
The Pope’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia is traditionally the occasion when the Pontiff lets his closest associates know about his top priorities. In 2005, for example, Pope Benedict XVI used the occasion to give his famous talk against the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” in the interpretation of Vatican II—a message that would be the leitmotif of his pontificate.
So today, when Pope Francis jolted Vatican-watchers with his searing critique of “sicknesses” within the Curia, he eliminated any possible confusion about his pastoral priorities. Reform of the Roman Curia will be his #1 goal—for 2015 and probably for his entire pontificate.
Last year, when he met with the Curia for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings, Pope Francis delivered a comparatively mild warning against gossip and in-house intrigues. This year he returned to the same topic, but left subtlety aside as tore into the familiar vices of a bureaucracy: an inward-looking and self-important approach, careerism, pettifoggery, factionalism, and a lack of a sense of humor. He spoke about the “existential schizophrenia” of Vatican officials who may be leading “a hidden, often dissolute life.” And he left very little doubt that he was not speaking in purely abstract terms—that he believed all these failings could be found in display within the corridors of the Vatican.
At the end of his address the Pope made a bow toward the faithful servants of the Church, mentioning that clerics, like airplanes, “only make the news when they crash.” But that quick word of praise came much too late to soften the overall message. Photos of the meeting show a room full of long-faced prelates. (Yes, including one particularly long-faced prelate, whose long face, usually evident when Francis is speaking at a general audience, was even lengthier than ever.) Reports indicate that the Pope received only sparse, tepid applause. (Evidently, the "porporati" don't like being told that they are less than beatific, even if it's the Pope himself who is speaking.) The mood of the pre-Christmas meeting was anything but joyous.
”I have to say, I didn’t feel great walking out of that room today,” one Vatican official told John Allen of Crux. Allen remarked that the Pope’s confrontational approach might by a risky one. He may want to change the way the Vatican works, but he cannot afford to alienate his entire staff or destroy office morale. He needs someone to help him carry out his plans—even his plans for reform of the Roman Curia.
The fact that Pope Francis would risk the anger of his staff is noteworthy. The fact that he would return to the same topic that he discussed last year, and escalate the intensity of his rhetoric so dramatically, suggests that the iron has entered his soul: that he has encountered resistance and is determined to overcome it.
(And perhaps, that he has become exasperated with the intransigence, obstinacy and plain pig-headedness that seems to be dogging the Curia these days, to say nothing of the outright disrespect of certain prelates.)Just a few days before the Pope’s stunning speech, the French daily Le Figaro carried a prescient article entitled “Guerre secrete au Vatican: comment le pape Francois bouleverse l’Église” (“Secret war at the Vatican: how Pope Francis is shaking up the Church”). Correspondent Jean-Marie Guénois, a veteran of the Vatican press corps, portrays a struggle between a Pope determined to change the way the Vatican does business and entrenched officials determined to resist the changes. If that analysis is correct, it would help to explain the Pope’s remarkable speech today. In a sense the Holy Father was addressing not only the Vatican staff but the Church at large, explaining why it is so important to reform the Roman Curia.
He may face stiff resistance now, but Jorge Bergoglio was elected to the papacy with a very clear mandate to clean up the Curia. During the meetings of the College of Cardinals that preceded the 2013 conclave, the need for reform was by far the most prominent theme. In fact the Argentine prelate reportedly captured the attention of his colleagues, and thus became a likely candidate for the papacy, when he delivered a short, pointed talk about the importance of breaking down a “self-referential” attitude in Church institutions.
The need for reform at the Vatican is not a question that pits liberals against conservatives. Pope Benedict recognized the same need and, recognizing that he no longer had the strength to lead a major reform, stepped down to clear the way for someone more energetic. Pope Francis took office with this problem foremost in his mind.
Nearly two years into his pontificate, Pope Francis has formed a clear understanding of the task he has undertaken. He knows that the challenge will be formidable; he knows the resistance will be tough. And now we know that he is determined. If you want to know what this pontificate is all about, read today’s address.
Francis a papal bull in a china shop"We don't want nice men in the Vatican.""
That was one of the more, ah, unique things that the biologist and atheist polemicist Richard Dawkins once said about the current pope.
I tend to agree with Dawkins more often than not, particularly when it comes to science, the supremacy of evidence over belief, and the epic moral and ethical problems found in ancient religious texts.
But on this score, he has it wrong.
I mean, ok, I get it. You get a charismatic guy in the pope's office and it can be much harder to concretely put pressure on the Vatican to actually do something about itself. The cult of personality is a powerful blindfold.
The thing is, by all the evidence we have to date, Pope Francis is more than a nice guy with a gentle manner.
He is more like a papal bull in the clergy china shop. Underneath that calming smile is fighter who isn't afraid to kick a few doors down. (As some stubborn Curialists may yet find out soon enough.)
I've written about Francis before, about how increasingly it is hard for me to dislike him even if he promotes improbable ideas about the nature of the universe.
He got it right on the child abuse scandals. He got it right on science. He even told Catholics that gay marriage isn't the end of the world.
In short, he is "nice" and whether you are a believer or a confirmed heathen like myself, his example - particularly about how to treat others - is worth paying attention to.
Still, the Vatican is an institution that dates back to before the fall of the Roman Empire. Change comes slowly to it, and often in the face of grand internal resistance. (That is putting it rather mildly.)
My biggest issue with the Vatican has not just been the scandals that haunt it, but its institutional reflex to dismiss grave problems with the behaviour the church.
Yes, popes in the past made a few statements here or there about, for example, the rape of children by monsters hiding behind their collars, but really didn't do much about it.
Usually the best we got was a pope or Catholic apologist saying, "Well, yes, this thing over there was bad and all, but you know, Jesus and love and a few bad apples and blah blah blah."
No government or corporation could get away with that kind of thinking, but the Vatican tried again and again. And for a long time, it worked.
It always struck me that the Vatican leadership held onto a rationale that said if they were wrong about one issue - whatever that issue was - then they would be wrong about everything else. The infallibility of the magisterium and all that.
So it would never, ever admit that maybe underneath the gorgeous artwork of St. Peter's cathedral there festered a moral dry rot.
This is very much not what Francis seems to be about. His mission to change things is not limited to moral or ethical issues. He wants to change the church's scandal plagued institutional culture.
This week, in his latest episode of kicking over the apple carts of the clergy, he put Vatican bureaucrats on notice.
In a speech he blasted bishops and cardinals whose lust for power drives them to seek positions of greater influence or used their authority for personal gain.
Francis framed his critique of the Vatican in medical metaphors, saying in effect that the church was sick and in need of treatment.
News reports say the speech left several high ranking church officials noticeably uncomfortable. That alone probably means Francis is on the right track. (I'd say he's "spot-on" with that speech!)
So yes, professor Dawkins, we should want this nice guy at the Vatican. Not because we atheists believe the supernatural goggly !!*%. But because Francis and his church have sway over millions, and if he can get a little house cleaning done, defend real justice, and blunt the spear of sectarian intolerance, then the man is doing some good in the world.
And that should always be welcome.
Pope Francis lambasts greedy, 'hypocritical' Catholic Church bureaucracy
The head of the Catholic Church has issued very strong words against the Vatican's bureaucracy. At a Christmas meeting, he said members of the clergy were "amassing material goods, not out of need, but to feel safe."
Pope Francis on Monday strongly criticized the Vatican's bureaucracy, saying the Roman Curia was ridden by disease.
Turning a meeting with the curia, which is traditionally used to exchange pre-Christmas greetings, he accused the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him of using their careers at the Vatican to gain power and wealth and of living "hypocritical" double lives in "a parallel world, where they disregard all that they sternly teach to others, and they start living a life that is secret and often dissolute."
Francis said some prelates were suffering from "spiritual Alzheimer's disease," that they had gradually lost their spirituality, forgot their connection with God and become slaves to "their passions, whims and manias." He spoke of lugubrious priests, "cold-blooded assassins" of other people's reputations, of hypocrites and sycophants. He urged the prelates to use the Christmas season to repent and make for a better church in the year 2015.
Addressing the Curia's lay staff, he asked for forgiveness "for my failings and those of my advisors, and also for some scandals, which are very hurtful. Forgive me."
"This is a speech without historic precedent," church historian Alberto Melloni, a contributor to Italian daily "Corriere della Sera," told the Associated Press. "If the pope uses this tone, it's because he knows it's necessary." Melloni noted further that before Francis' election, the Curia had virtually answered to no one, saying "an entire generation of the Curia ran it as if they were pope." (And sometimes, those who may have want to do something constructive about the situation couldn't get to speak to Benedict XVI, probably because of the gatekeeper who may have had his own agenda. Not for nothing was Benedict's isolation mentioned as a factor in the problems of the Curia.)
Marco Politi, a Vatican expert who writes for the "Il Fatto Quotidiano" daily, told dpa news agency that Monday's address was "a frontal attack" against his enemies inside the Curia, and could be seen as "one last warning" before a direct confrontation.
Vatican watchers said the speech could have been in reference to results of a secret investigation ordered up by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the aftermath of the 2012 leaks of his papers, which caused the so-called VatiLeaks scandal in 2012.
In the aftermath of the leak of the documents, the then Pope Benedict tasked three cardinals to probe deep into the Vatican's culture to find out what could have prompted a papal butler to steal incriminating documents and leak them to a journalist. Their report is known only to the two popes.
Francis was elected in March 2013 with a mandate to clean up a Catholic Church shaken by Benedict XVI's surprise resignation after VatiLeaks and a landslide of revelations about sexual abuse by priests throughout the world.
Since his election, Francis has made some progress, especially on financial transparency, but a wider reform of the church's bureaucracy is still under consideration. A panel of nine cardinals tasked with investigating the matter is due to meet in February.
Francis Uses Christmas Speech to Criticize Vatican Bureaucracy
ROME — Pope Francis excoriated the Vatican bureaucracy in his traditional Christmas address on Monday, saying that some of the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Roman Catholic Church suffer from a “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
In his annual speech, Francis warned against what he called a lust for power, hypocritical double lives and the lack of spiritual empathy among some men of God. He listed the 15 “ailments and temptations” that weaken their service to the Lord, inviting them to a “true self-examination” ahead of Christmas.
In strong yet colorful language, Francis criticized the Curia, the administration that runs the Holy See, for a narcissistic “pathology of power” and “existential schizophrenia.”
He suggested that his prelates pay an “ordinary visit to the cemeteries,” and encouraged them to examine and improve themselves.
“Brothers, let’s guard ourselves from the terrorism of gossip,” Francis told the rows of bishops and cardinals seated in a 16th-century reception hall in the Apostolic Palace, some looking ahead attentively, others meditatively keeping their heads down.
The “ailment of close circles,” he added, “enslaves their members and becomes a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body.”
Including himself among the sinners, Francis, the first Latin American pope, stressed once more his idea of a church at the service of the poor and the peripheries, a religious institution able to move away from scandals, infighting and lavish behaviors.
“This is the ideological and religious manifesto of a radical reform of the Curia,” Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert with the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, said. “He doesn’t describe the details of the reform that we will most likely see next year, but he indicated the principles according to which the Church has to change, at least in the pope’s intentions.”
In his Christmas speeches, Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, had often issued programmatic statements for the year to come, and talked about controversial issues like same-sex marriage. However, he had not used such a stern tone.
Last year, in his first Christmas speech to the Curia as pope, Francis warned his prelates against drifting “downward toward mediocrity,” and urged them to be “conscientious objectors” to gossip.
Andrea Tornielli, who covers the Vatican for the Italian daily La Stampa and its website, Vatican Insider, said that Francis “is not starting a witch hunt, he is asking everyone — himself included — for an evangelical mea culpa.”
In a meeting with the Vatican’s employees soon after his speech to the Curia, Francis repeated his plea for forgiveness, asking the laypeople who work for the Vatican to pardon his shortcomings and those of his collaborators, as well as some scandals that have hurt the church.
Mr. Tornielli explained that the pope was playing the role of the tough guy. “He is trying to reform hearts and behaviors,” he said. “It’s something deeper than a structural reform of the Curia.”
Since his election in March 2013, Francis has created various bodies to improve the Holy See’s management and has appointed nine cardinals to advise him on the reform of the Curia.
In February 2015, the cardinals are due to meet again, just ahead of another consistory to elect new cardinals.
Dec 23 14 3:20 AM
Francis gives Roman Curia officials coal for Christmas
It's now all but official. Pope Francis and certain members of the Roman Curia's old guard are openly at battle for the soul and future of the Catholic church. And their clash is over a sense of entitlement and privilege traditionally tied to a clericalist ethos and court mentality that has long held sway at the Vatican.
The Argentine pontiff pretty much confirmed that on Monday in his annual pre-Christmas meeting with the Curia's top officials during which he denounced a long list of bad attitudes and behavior he believes are ailing the church's central offices. (Read Joshua J. McElwee's excellent report on the 15 illnesses that, according to Francis, are threatening the Curia's spiritual and moral health.)
The 78-year-old pope delivered his screed to the cardinals and bishops -- that's exactly how many people inside and beyond the walls of the Vatican will read it -- just a little more than 24 hours after France's oldest national paper, Le Figaro, published a cover article in its Sunday magazine titled, "The Secret War Inside the Vatican: How Pope Francis is shaking up the Church."
The conservative paper's highly respected Vatican analyst, Jean-Marie Guénois, claimed in the article that the "climate inside [the Vatican] is not good." He wrote that "fear reigns" among many officials and employees who do not like how the pope is dismantling traditional protocols and who are nervously waiting to see how his eventual structural reforms will affect them. (One wonders why they're nervous. If they served the Vatican well, and with competence, integrity and dedication, then they have nothing to fear. Only those who have skeletons in their closets would be afraid.) Guénois quoted one of these officials as saying, "His way of governing is disconcerting."
The pre-Christmas speech on Monday is likely to unsettle them even further. Especially certain clerics.
Even though the Jesuit pope did not name names, it's clear he believes some of these cardinals and bishops are inflicted with the "ailments" he listed (He's not the only one who believes that - in my opinion, some of it is pretty obvious: Tarcisio Bertone and his penthouse apartment and lavish 80th birthday party, anyone? Ganswein and his ubiquitous interviews with every news outfit, from the serious to the salacious, to say nothing of his filtering when Benedict XVI was Pope? Burke and his open disrespect for the Papacy? Muller and his attempts to control the agenda of the Synod?) -- an exaggerated sense of self-importance, lust for power and control, lack of empathy for others, opposition to the movements of the Holy Spirit, careerism, and the "very serious evil" of leading a double life, which he labeled "existential schizophrenia".
The officials, all wearing black cassocks with their red and violet skullcaps and sashes, sat stony-faced throughout the stinging address, which went on for slightly more than 30 minutes. Uncharacteristically, the pope hardly looked up from his written text and made only a couple, very minor unscripted remarks. His delivery was slow and deliberate. The prelates politely, but unenthusiastically applauded at the end.
This was their annual "Christmas party" with the Successor of Peter, but not many of these men looked too jolly or cheerful. Nonetheless, they were all smiles afterward (But probably with talons at the ready.) as Francis walked around the room and greeted each of them individually.
In his first pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia last year, he was similarly critical of clericalism and careerism among Vatican officials. And in this sense, his two meetings up to now have been very different from those held by his most recent predecessors. Previous popes would use the occasion to reflect on events and issues of the last 12 months, delivering what many considered a "State of the Church" address.
But this year, Francis distinguished himself from them even further by doing what none had done before.
After addressing the Curia chieftains in the richly frescoed Clementine Hall inside the Apostolic Palace, he moved over to the much larger and modernly designed Paul VI Hall near his Santa Marta residence. There, he had another pre-Christmas gathering, this time with the rest of the Vatican's workforce and their families. These are the hundreds of mostly laypeople. In the majority of cases, they work as subordinates to the priests, bishops and cardinals that hold the managerial posts.
The pope told them two things in particular that might be viewed as his attempt to bypass a clericalist apparatus, which appears increasingly out of sync with his style and focus, and gain the lay employees' trust and cooperation in his efforts to reform the church's central offices.
First, he made a specific point of praising the Italians who work in the Vatican. This was nothing less than a rebuke to those who have blamed the Italians for the financial and organizational mess that has crippled the Roman Curia for many years. Most recently, the head of the Secretariat of the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, angered Italian workers and officials at the Vatican by bluntly insinuating that they lacked transparency and were oblivious to modern accounting methods.
"It is a fact that the great majority of you are of Italian nationality," the pope told the Vatican employees. "So let me express a particular and, I would say, a necessary thanks to the Italians who, throughout the history of the church and the Roman Curia, have always worked with a generous and faithful spirit."
The pope praised the "unique industriousness and filial devotion" that marked the Italians' work in the Vatican, adding that they have given the church "great saints, popes, martyrs, missionaries and artists." He concluded by saying "no momentary cloud" could "overshadow" all that.
Second, Francis asked the employees to "forgive" him and his "collaborators" for their "shortcomings." He included in this plea for pardon the "great harm" that "scandals" have caused. Of course, laypeople were involved in a number of scandals that have been unveiled inside the Vatican over the years, but when popes refer to their "collaborators," they almost always mean the clerics who assist them.
The full measure of Pope Francis' request for forgiveness can only be gained by reading it in light of a comment he made earlier Monday to the cardinals and bishops.
"I once read that priests are like airplanes: They only make the news when they crash, even if there are many that fly," he said. "How much harm can just one priest that falls do to the whole body of the church."
Some, especially the ordained, may be tempted to interpret the pope's comments as unfairly holding priests to a higher standard than the rest of the baptized. Francis has already earned notoriety among them for picking on priests, being a scold and an anti-clerical moralist. In fact, some have already mocked him for being a populist "pope of the people" who has demoralized and confused those who hold to a more traditionalist view of the "sacred" priesthood.
But his disdain for clericalism and careerism is not aimed only at men in Holy Orders. It is also directed toward women religious and laypeople -- anyone who perpetuates a "clericalist" mentality in which the ordained are treated with privilege and honored as lord-rulers rather and servant-leaders. Such Catholics exist not only at the Vatican, but all throughout the church.
If Francis is trying to bring about a revolution and not just reform in the church-- and some officials, including the head of his Jesuit order, truly believe he is -- then a purge of such a mentality is at the very heart of it. The pope obviously believes that Christmas is a most appropriate time of the year to remind all followers of Christ of this, especially those ordained to serve.
As he told the cardinals and bishops, Christmas "is the appointment with God who is born in the poverty of the grotto of Bethlehem to teach us the power of humility."
Dec 23 14 8:40 AM
Francis, not a pope for the nostalgic
Church challenged to fight temptation to idealize the past
This is the time of year when our awareness of time becomes particularly vivid. Christmas and the end of the year make us conscious of time's cyclical rhythm, but also of the path of our lives, dotted with events that change us. This particular mix of circularity and linearity is one of the elements of the liturgical calendar and of Christianity's “theory of everything.” Religion and Christianity have a special relationship to time, and this is particularly complex for the Catholic Church and its understanding of tradition.
We see this mix of old and new, of tradition and change at work in Pope Francis. In a sense the debate at the bishops' synod on marriage and family life in October (and the ongoing preparation for next October's synod) is a debate on the macro-issue of the relationship between old and new, between tradition and change in the Church. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna offered an interesting glimpse of the tensions that run deep at these gatherings in an interview he recently gave to the German Catholic magazine Herder Korrespondenz.
On the one hand, he noted how narrow the debate had become at the synod compared to the proposal Cardinal Walter Kasper made in his address to the consistory of the cardinals of February. It was as if the call for a more merciful Church could be narrowed down to one issue — access to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried. On the other hand, the Dominican cardinal, who is a descendant of one of Europe’s most important aristocratic families, said nostalgia arose among some at the synod for a particular alignment between Church and politics.
“It is the original temptation of the Church to look for the protection from those in power,” said Cardinal Schonborn, who described himself in the interview as a “conservative liberal or a liberal conservative.”
This is dangerous not only because those who would offer protection are usually pursuing their own interests (such as the tyrants protecting Christians in the Middle East), but also because “there is another temptation in the Church: to dream of having power as a Church.”
The cardinal's words open a window on the cultural and psychological dynamics of the synod, and in particular the dream some bishops and cardinals have to return to a period of European Catholicism that existed between the two world wars. It was the time of the “Action Francaise,” that is, a “political Catholicism” aimed at building a Catholic state. It did not matter if the leaders of such a state actually believed in God. In fact, it might even be more convenient if they didn’t (Pius XI condemned “Action Francaise” in 1926). This dream — Cardinal Schonborn continued — is very close to the mindset of those who see Pope Francis’ election as invalid and his pontificate as illegitimate.
“Pope Francis is getting rid of these ideas about the Church. This is a struggle about the way to be a Church in a pluralistic and secular society.” This means a struggle also within the Church hierarchy: “These cardinals are extremely worried when they think they see signs that the power of the papacy is decreasing and that the pope has descended from the throne.”
The temptation for some in the Church to seek refuge from modernity and to run into the arms of the mighty is paradoxical, given that modern historical consciousness came to Western culture through Christian humanism. Francis seems to be aware of this paradox and of the risks involved. In his acts and words the pope has struck a very sophisticated balance between old and new. We see this in the way he evokes the Second Vatican Council, which was the most modern of the ecumenical councils, and yet also embodied the teaching of a Church that was still very hierarchical, clerical, and male-dominated.
When Francis quotes Vatican II he never intends to freeze its texts in a non-historical vacuum. A quick look at his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, and the just published lineamenta for the Synod of 2015 reveal his full and unapologetic acceptance of Vatican II and a committed reception of the council. But his decision to beatify Paul VI also shows us that Francis is open to what history teaches, evidenced by willingness to relativize the issue of contraception in the hierarchy of Catholic morality. The then-Fr. Bergoglio learned through his own history as a priest that the stories of married couples dealing with contraception were never ideological (“this is how things are because this is how they are supposed to be”) or stereotypical (“this is how things are because we are told that this is how they are”).
This approach to the issue of change is not only part of Francis' spirituality. It also part of his culture, and in particular of his understanding of the position of Christianity in modern history. His decision, made clear in the very first week of his pontificate, to refocus everything in the Church on God's mercy starts from the insight that despite all the de-constructivism typical of modern culture (which some call post-modernity), the story of Jesus is still strong and captures deep aspirations of our common humanity. It is a story that ends with the Son of God stripped and hanged. Even when Jesus is tempted, he does not look for refuge from the cost of his mission nor from ways to separate himself from the humanity surrounding him.
Francis' relentless criticism of clericalism is based on his rejection of the temptation for the Church and clergy to separate itself from the real world. Francis' anti-clericalism is ecclesiologically grounded. It is not demagogical but credible, because it is intellectually honest. Francis' traditional Catholicism does not try to recreate an idealized Church of the past, somewhere between the Middle Ages and the 1930s. In his Letters from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out that the nostalgic appeal to the golden age of the medieval Church implies the rejection of human freedom “in the form of clericalism. This can be only a desperate move that requires the sacrifice of intellectual honesty.” It is the intellectual honesty that acknowledges the gap between the Jesus of the Gospels and Christendom of the Middle Ages. One of Italy's most interesting contemporary theologians, Giuseppe Ruggieri, in his recently published book, Della fede. La certezza, il dubbio, la lotta (“On Faith. Certainty, Doubt, Struggle”), describes the challenges of a Church in modernity like this: “The story of Jesus mandates Christians to wish for all men and women the peace, glory, and beauty of a transfigured creation, and to accept their diversity from the Kingdom in a struggle that makes them similar to Christ.” The ongoing debate is not about the relevance of Jesus' story for the Christian character of the Church, but about the legitimacy of a nostalgia that longs for an idealized past, for the might of a mythical pre-modern and anti-modern Church. The story of Jesus proves stronger than this myth.
Dec 23 14 8:52 AM
Lajolo on the speech to the Curia: nothing like this has ever happened before
The cardinal claims: 'The Pope talks about himself as well. Gossip can kill'
'To be honest, nothing like this has ever happened before'. Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former Vatican governor and foreign minister, does not hide his surprise. 'It is the first time this has happened; never before had a Pope set us in the Curia a series of pathologies that we must examine ourselves on.' All along, says the cardinal who has been head of some of the most important offices of the Holy See for many years, 'the exchange of Christmas wishes has been a customary occasion, that follows a usual pattern'.
What did you expect from Pope Francis' speech?
'On this occasion, his predecessors would usually say nothing but the most relevant events of the past year. They summed up the principal events in the Church and in their apostolic activity. So you could have expected Francis to talk about his travels to the Holy See and Turkey, instead he said nothing about them. Maybe he will refer to these in his speech to the ambassadors to the Vatican.'
How did you welcome the Pope's warning?
'It is the request of an examination of conscience, of an end-of-the-year confession. For the first time a Pope asks the Curia to examine itself on a number of problematic issues. For instance, on the basis of my experiences of the Curia, I believe that a simplification of procedures would diminish scandals.'
Why does the Pope implicate cardinals and bishops?
'The seven deadly sins are within all of us. Even the Pope often calls himself a sinner. And if he is a sinner, never mind us. Scandals will continue to exist as long as the world exists. The Gospel says that it is necessary for scandals to take place, but those who cause them will be sorry. It is the word of Christ, which is unquestionable for us.'
So you cannot avoid scandals?
'It is the duty of the superiors in the Curia to make sure these things do not happen. (Clearly, some "superiors" either forgot or ignored this duty during the papacy of Benedict - they went their merry way while poor Benedict was left to absorb the opprobrium directed against the Vatican because of these scandals.) And since he holds the most responsibility, the Pope is the first one to deal with them. Reforming institutions is necessary but it is not enough. We need a conversion of the hearts. The Church needs constant reformations, and the Roman Curia in particular, which gathers the tensions and issues of the local Churches throughout the whole world.
Will the reforms under way at the moment be enough?
'it is useful for ecclesiastical institutions to become simpler and more efficient but there are men whose hearts are known to be a mess within them. Tacitus' question is extremely current; what do we need good laws for, if we do not have good values? Honest conduct is not established by law. Francis asks us to carefully reflect on our behaviour and our weaknesses, thinking of the evil that we do. Starting from gossip, that can kill.'
Dec 23 14 10:32 AM
Dec 23 14 4:55 PM
Exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into merchandise to obtain worldly profits or more powers. It is the sickness of persons who seek insatiably to multiply powers and for this purpose, they are capable of calumniating, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally to exhibit themselves and to show themselves more capable than others. This sickness also does much evil to the body because it leads persons to justify the use of any means so long as they reach their purpose, often in the name of justice and of transparency!
Dec 23 14 5:07 PM
Pope Francis took the occasion of Christmas to mount a really savage attack on the bureaucracy of the Vatican. Characteristically, he did so in a speech to the very people he was criticising. This isn’t surprising, when you look at his charge sheet. The assembled clerics were accused of “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, “the terrorism of gossip”, lack of self-criticism, supposing themselves indispensable, of forming cliques, fixating on office politics, of “out of jealousy or cunning [finding] joy in seeing another fall, rather than helping him up and encouraging him”, or “theatrical severity and sterile pessimism” and, of course, of “the sickness of deifying leaders”. Well, there’s one boss the Curia surely won’t be deifying this Christmas. The pope’s speech was received in almost complete silence, according to reports. The question isn’t whether it was accurate – it corresponds very well to what outsiders say about the Vatican bureaucracy. In fact, it represents a notable hardening of the pope’s heart against them. A year ago, he was saying much nicer things, telling one journalist that it was really true that there were godly people in the Vatican. But he has very carefully arranged his life so that he is far more independent of the Curia than previous popes. He doesn’t live in the papal apartments and he controls his own visitors. The really interesting question is whether there is any bureaucracy which functions much better than the Curia. Is there any office which doesn’t know “the terrorism of gossip”? Or where leaders aren’t worshipped and underlings ignored? Surely you don’t have to be a celibate priest to take pleasure in the misfortunes of your colleagues, or to have entirely lost contact with the idealism which brought you into the job. (But, of course, the Curia is expected to be rather better behaved than a corporate or other institution. Most Cardinals and Archbishops consider themselves superior to even the most powerful CEO's and secular leaders, and there is a price for that.)So, as you take a break for Christmas, what would you say to your colleagues if you had the pope’s privilege of telling them exactly what you think?
Dec 23 14 6:47 PM
The really interesting question is whether there is any bureaucracy which functions much better than the Curia. Is there any office which doesn’t know “the terrorism of gossip”? Or where leaders aren’t worshipped and underlings ignored?
Who, among the curia, has appeared most frequently in magazines and newspapers? None other than the celebrity secretary/prefect/pontifex. The plethora of titles alone indicates an accumulation of inappropriate power. It is little wonder that he looked so petulant and mutinous during the Pope's speech to the Curia.
It is clear that Pope Francis’s pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia this week did not sit well with many of its members. It was a coruscating and very public critique.
In one photograph, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, head of the papal household, secretary to Pope Francis and to Pope Emeritus Benedict, looked less than pleased. Last March the archbishop told German television he was shocked at the election of Pope Francis.
He “favoured other candidates – I was wrong – but then so were other people”. He said the pope was the darling of the media “but that won’t always be the case”. The pope is not “everybody’s darling”, he said.
We can be sure that is also the case where the archbishop and members of the curia are concerned. This is more or less the same curia blamed by the College of Cardinals in great part for Pope Benedict’s unexpected resignation last year.
Dec 23 14 7:03 PM
Blunt words from Pope Francis
In holiday messages at this time of year, the boss usually musters the energy to say nice things to the people who work for him. Even if he's exasperated by the performance of his employees or beset by arrogant bullies on the corporate rungs above him.
That's the generosity of the Christmas spirit, right?
But what if the boss used this holiday interlude not to extol the good but to point out in withering detail his subordinates' personal shortcomings?
And what if that message resonated well beyond the boss' workplace, so that all of us could read his remarks and, gulp, see ourselves in the unflinching mirror that he held aloft?
You may have guessed that we're talking about Pope Francis' extraordinary Christmas message on Monday.
Instead of a traditional message of charity and hope, Francis excoriated the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Vatican. He accused them of knuckling under to 15 ailments and temptations, including greed, jealousy, hypocrisy, cowardice and, in a memorable phrase, "spiritual Alzheimer's."
He talked about "the terrorism" of gossip, which he labeled a disease that could destroy a reputation "in cold blood." He urged them to be "conscientious objectors" to gossip.
He blasted prelates for vainglory, for amassing wealth and leading double lives that he said could lead to "existential schizophrenia."
The critique "left many of the assembled clerics clearly uncomfortable," the Religious News Service reported. We bet.
Yes, the pope's stinging words were aimed at a specific group of people under his command. And it's tempting to dismiss the workplace lecture of a pope, who, after all, already has a lifetime job and no worries of being fired. He doesn't have to fret about the terrorism of gossip or whether he can afford to put a new iPad under the tree.
But what Francis said invites all of us to take a moment from the dizzying rush of these holidays to take a deep breath and think about the life we lead, the way we treat friends and foes, the things we do to get what we seek.
The pope took aim at "the sickness of considering oneself 'immortal,' 'immune' or 'indispensable.' … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service." Those who do think they're immortal, Francis said, should visit a cemetery and gaze on the graves of others who shared that illusion.
He counseled his audience to work as a team and to avoid turning into "procedural machines" through overwork.
We all navigate through life as best we can. But we also gossip. We envy others. We chase the latest gadgets, the bigger home, the fancier car. These are normal impulses that can be channeled for good or ill, for healthy pursuit or destructive obsession. The pope's words invite us to examine how we live, how we pursue our goals and — most important — how we treat others.
Francis addressed another group on Monday as well: the Vatican staff, including gardeners and cleaning workers. The pope thanked them for their labor and asked "forgiveness for the shortcomings of my colleagues and myself, as well as for some scandals, which do great harm."
"Forgive me," he said.
Those are handy words in the world today. You aren't perfect. You won't live forever. You're going to hurt people's feelings, make mistakes and blunder into messy situations. But what values will you invoke? What choices will you make?
This wasn't an exclusively Roman Catholic message, or even a particularly religious message. It's advice to all of us, on how all of us lead our lives.
The Vatican, bureaucracy and Cuba: Happy Christmas, you rogues
POPE Francis is a bag of surprises. When members of the curia, the Vatican's Italian-dominated bureaucracy, gathered this week for a pre-Christmas meeting with the boss, they may have been expecting some emollient words of encouragement and good wishes for the season when their faith's beginnings are enjoyably celebrated. Instead they got a terrible scolding. All manner of pathologies were at work, they were told, in the corridors of ecclesiastical power: ruthless careerism, back-biting, narcissism, complacency. The pope diagnosed no less than 15 specific failings, ranging from "spiritual Alzheimer's"—presumably, a diminishing awareness that the curia's work had a sacred purpose—to delusions of omnipotence and the "terrorism of gossip". Indeed, some Vatican operatives were said to be guilty of "cold-bloodedly killing the reputation of their own colleagues and brothers".
Many people will immediately understand what the pope was talking about. In the weeks and months before the surprise resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, nearly two years ago, the papacy seemed on the verge of paralysis because of the rumours of financial and sexual scandal that were swirling round the Vatican. Ever since then, the new pope has been working hard to get the curia under control. As the first pope from the global south, he has invited a team of non-Italian prelates to advise him on reforming the administration's labyrinthine structures. In recent days his Australian adviser on economic matters, Cardinal George Pell, reported that the financial situation was both better and worse than anybody imagined; he had found that "hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on any balance-sheet."
Strangely enough, the papal scolding comes only days after a historic success for the one department of the Vatican that is widely admired. The breakthrough in relations between the United States and Cuba, announced last week, was in large measure orchestrated by the holy see's diplomatic service, and the Vatican was not shy about taking some credit for this. So was the pope being a tad unfair, or inconsistent, in celebrating a diplomatic triumph one day and excoriating his own bureaucrats a few days later? In fact, both initiatives (helping the breakthrough with Cuba, and the drive to clean up the curia) come from places deep inside the pope's complex personality, to judge from the biography which I reviewed in this week’s print edition.
As Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, he maintained, and indeed personified, a vision of global Catholicism in which bishops, and regional groups of bishops, had more authority; and in this vision, the curia should be at bishops’ service, rather than a centralising tool to keep the bishops under control. And among his Latin American group of bishops, America's embargo on Cuba was a long-standing concern. It was seen as perpetuating a mutually reinforcing standoff between two bad things: the heartlessness of the capitalist north, and the authoritarian secularism of the socialist south. In a short book penned in 1998 after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, the Argentine prelate argued for the need to break this logjam.
Nor is it completely inconsistent to celebrate a Vatican success and argue for deep reform. As presently organised, the holy see’s secretariat of state is a strange beast, combining an admired and over-stretched diplomatic corps with a shadowy bureaucracy that has general authority over the whole papal power structure. It doesn’t take a managerial genius to see the need to separate the two components, and precisely that may well happen next year. Structural change is needed, as well as individual repentance.
The Pope, Beyoncé And Me: Francis’ Gift to Catholics
There was a Christmas Eve a little more than a decade ago when I did something that was, for me, rare, at least on a holiday typically spent in full-party mode, with booze, food, family and friends. I went to church.
No one had died. No one was getting married or baptized. This visit was entirely volitional — and, I told myself, ornamental, which was true to a point.
The church, you see, was St. Peter’s Basilica. I was The Times’s correspondent in Rome. And because I covered the Vatican, I had dibs on prime seats relatively close to the altar. Forgive the following mixture of profane and sacred, but you don’t have to be a Beyoncé devotee to say a quick yes to free tickets in the front rows. You go for the pageant and the privilege.
Pope John Paul II presided over the Mass, as best he could. He struggled to form coherent words, a man disintegrating before the world’s eyes, month by painful month. Many of us in the press corps who kept tabs on him and trailed him — to Guatemala, to Croatia, to Poland — were essentially on a deathwatch.
And some of us occasionally wondered if that vigil extended beyond him, to the Roman Catholic Church itself, and if he were both man and metaphor. Especially in Western Europe and the United States, the church was sliding into a sort of obsolescence.
It often resisted engagement with modernity. It denounced sin in the world while indulging it in the priesthood. And it spoke with a censoriousness that seemed antithetical to Christianity.
After John Paul came Benedict; little changed. More and more of the Catholics I knew located their faith as far outside of the Vatican as they could.
Now there’s Francis. And things are different. Not different enough, not by a long shot. The church remains wrong on women and wrong on gays, and I’ve noted repeatedly the shameful discrepancy between Francis’ kind words and the unkind firings of lesbian and gay employees by Catholic institutions in the United States.
But almost two years into his papacy, it’s impossible to deny the revolutionary freshness of his posture: humble, receptive, even casual. The pomp is gone and, with it, the air of thundering judgment. If the rules haven’t been rewritten, they seem less like bludgeons than in the past.
Francis doesn’t hold himself high, an autocrat with all the answers. He crouches to a level where questions can be asked, conversations broached, disagreements articulated.
He insists that other church leaders lower themselves as well, and used a traditional Christmas address on Monday not to chide the flock for its transgressions but to remind the shepherds of theirs.
He accused some of the cardinals, bishops and priests in the upper echelons of the church bureaucracy of straying so forgetfully from their true mission and ministry that they were afflicted with a kind of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
He said that they had fallen prey to the “pathology of power” and needed to beware the “terrorism of gossip.” All in all, the Vatican as described by Francis sounded like an Aaron Spelling drama, although with looser-fitting clothes, odder hats and lower Nielsen ratings.
By taking the church out of the clouds, he’s putting it into the fray. All accounts of the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba cast Francis as a key player, and that’s more than a diplomatic victory. It’s an assertion of the church’s sustained relevance.
He’s also putting the church within reach of those who would rather find a place for it in their lives than have to figure out a life without it. They are many.
I’ve never been able to believe in one dogma, one institution, as a possible repository for all truth and as a compass trumping any other. And I’ve been troubled by the frequency with which individual religions divide rather than unite. The Catholic Church has certainly been guilty of this.
But it has also done, and continues to do, enormous good. Its soldiers are present at almost every humanitarian crisis, their courage and caring inextricable from the best strands of the faith.
That faith provides many pilgrims with a harbor they can’t find elsewhere. They look to it not necessarily for a precise code of conduct but for a crucial inspiration to be less selfish, more charitable. It gives them a sorely needed peace, so long as they don’t feel shoved away.
By not shoving, Francis is serving them well. By not shouting, he’s being heard.
In St. Peter’s this Christmas Eve, he’ll be at center stage. Except he won’t, in another sense, because he’s redefined his role. If I were in the pews once again, it wouldn’t be to savor the spectacle. It would be to see the man.
Dec 23 14 7:16 PM
2015 will be a busy year for a maverick pope
ROME — With his unexpected broadside at the Vatican’s elite on Monday, Pope Francis solidified his reputation for surprise. At times it almost seems this maverick pontiff should come with a warning label, like a pack of cigarettes: “Caution … predictions are hazardous to your health!”
Trying to guess Francis might do today is challenging enough, let alone trying to anticipate what the next 12 months might bring. Nevertheless, simply looking at what’s already on the books for 2015, it’s at least possible to say that it shapes up as another eventful year.
At the moment, here’s what’s on tap for Pope Francis in 2015.
First up, Francis will hold his annual encounter with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican on the morning of Jan. 12. It’s generally the pope’s top foreign policy speech of the year, and especially in light of his recent diplomatic coup in helping pave the way for a deal between the United States and Cuba, whatever indications he provides of his priorities for next year will be keenly scrutinized.
Later that day, Francis will leave for a Jan. 12-19 outing to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, marking his second voyage to Asia and the seventh foreign trip of his papacy.
As the first pope from the developing world, Francis has made a point of traveling to locations outside the West before heading anywhere in Western Europe or North America. Among other things, this outing will give Francis an opportunity to expand the Church’s dialogue with the great religions of Asia.
The stop in the Philippines also is expected to generate perhaps the largest crowd ever assembled to see a pope. When Pope St. John Paul II visited the Philippines in 1995 for World Youth Day, he drew 5 million people, and many projections suggest the number may be even larger for Francis, perhaps 6 million or more. ("May"? The crowds WILL be even larger for Francis. Excitement is already reaching fever-pitch, with people talking about where they plan to stake out places along Francis' route so they can catch even a fleeting glimpse of him.)In mid-February 2015, Francis will hold a consistory for the creation of new cardinals. It’s a further opportunity to put his stamp on the Church’s senior leadership, perhaps including his first nomination of a cardinal from the United States. If things hold to form, Francis is likely to name 10-12 new cardinals who are under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope.
As he did last year, Francis has also invited all of the cardinals of the world to a meeting just before the consistory, where they will discuss both plans for Vatican reform and also the Synod of Bishops on the family later in the year. In 2014, that session provided valuable clues about where the fault lines at the synod were likely to run, and the gathering this time will therefore be closely watched.
Sometime early in the year, the pope’s “G9” council of cardinal advisors, a body that includes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, is expected to begin making concrete recommendations for Vatican reform, possibly involving the elimination or consolidations of some departments and the creation of one or two others.
One strong hypothesis is the creation of a new “Congregation for the Laity,” to take its place alongside existing congregations for clergy and bishops. If so, Francis has hinted that he might chose to name a lay person, even a married couple, to help lead the agency, which would represent another challenge to the Vatican’s clerical power structure.
Also sometime in the first half of 2015, Francis is expected to release an encyclical letter on the environment. If so, it will mark the first time a pontiff has devoted such a major teaching document exclusively to ecological themes.
Last November, a papal aide said the encyclical would be produced in time to influence “next year’s crucial decisions,” which include a meeting in September 2015 at the United Nations to draft the Sustainable Development Goals and another gathering on climate change in Paris in December.
Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, recently said that Francis wants to convene a summit of faith leaders to discuss ecological issues after the encyclical comes out.
In June, Francis is scheduled to travel to Turin in Italy for a rare exhibition of its famous shroud, regarded by devotees as the burial cloth of Christ. Given that recent popes have sent mixed signals regarding their personal convictions about the shroud, observers will be watching closely to see what Francis has to say.
The day trip to Turin also marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesian religious order. Since the future pope attended a Salesian school in Buenos Aires as a teenager, it should be a highly personal encounter.
The pontiff is also projected to make short outings to Naples in Italy in March — among other things to venerate relics of the 3rd-century St. Gennaro, the patron of Naples, whose blood is believed to liquefy every year on his feast day — and to Florence in November for a meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference.
In late September 2015, Francis is set to make his first trip to the United States, traveling to Philadelphia for a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families. Though the Vatican has not yet released details for the trip, Francis is also expected to stop in New York to address the United Nations and in Washington, DC for a joint session of Congress.
(Those are speeches that I will definitely look forward to, if Francis will indeed be able to visit the UN and the US Congress.)Catholic leaders in Arizona have proposed adding a stop at the US/Mexico border to the pope’s itinerary in order to demonstrate his solidarity with immigrants, but it’s not clear at the moment if that’s in the cards.
The outing will mark not only Francis’ first trip to the United States as pope, but the first time Jorge Mario Bergoglio has ever visited the country.
Francis is already quietly making preparations, among other things working his Jesuit contacts to call on members of the order who know the United States. The closer the trip draws, the more the pope’s focus on the country and the American Church will increase.
In October 2015, Francis will once again convene a Synod of Bishops on the family, in part to ponder how hot-button issues such as how welcoming the Catholic Church ought to be to gays, how positive it ought to be about non-traditional relationships such as living together outside marriage, and whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion.
The October 2014 synod that discussed those issues was among the most tumultuous Vatican summits in recent memory, and there’s no reason to believe the next edition will be any less controversial.
That’s especially so given that last October’s summit was merely preparatory for the 2015 gathering, whereas this time around the bishops are expected to make some concrete recommendations for action. In the end, however, a synod is merely an advisory body, and it will be up to Francis to make the final call.
Other potential items on Francis’ to-do list for the coming year include at least three more possible trips:
France, visiting Paris and Lourdes.
Three Latin American nations, including Bolivia, where President Evo Morales recently announced the pontiff’s intention to visit next year.
Africa, possibly including Uganda to mark the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Uganda Martyrs in 1964. If so, he would become the third pope to visit the county, after Paul VI in 1969 and John Paul II in 1993.
Francis has also dedicated 2015 as a “Year of Consecrated Life,” celebrating the contributions of men’s and women’s religious orders in the Catholic Church, and will presumably have several events for religious along the way.
Of course, Francis is a spontaneous figure whose agenda evolves in response to new opportunities and changing situations. The only real way to know what 2015 will actually bring, therefore, is to stay tuned.
Dec 24 14 9:51 AM
Pope to curia: Follow the Gospels and we'll get along fine
To understand Francis, one must trace his Argentine roots
The tongues are certainly wagging worldwide over the Christmas message of Pope Francis to Vatican staff – the priests, monsignors, bishops and cardinals gathered for an end of year assessment by the pope.
A few perfunctory words to round out a very busy year or a general expression of thanks for various contributions? Not at all! A full-on, Gospel-based account of the trappings of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy that can beset professional Catholic administrators and an implied warning that more is to come when the anticipated plans to restructure the Roman Curia are announced in the next couple of months.
“Where did this one come from and why at Christmas?” is the understandable question on many minds, not least those whose tenure in their jobs depends on the one making the damning assessment.
But there's nothing new in what the pope said, observers of the Vatican and those who have worked closely with bishops and cardinals in Rome have told me.
“You could find any number of cardinals and bishops saying the same thing to my certain knowledge up to five decades ago,” one previously highly placed and now retired lay Church official in Rome told me.
So how and why did the Argentinian pope come to say it now to the clergy among the Vatican's staff, especially as he subsequently met with the Vatican's lay staff to thank them for all the sacrifices they make in their service of the Vatican every day?
What drove the first pope in history to dump so completely, publically and unceremoniously on his curia and go to the heart of the Gospel to find a basis for his commentary?
Jesuits in Argentina I spoke to were not surprised at all by what the pope had to say in Rome. This behavior was very familiar in Fr. Bergoglio's modus operandi with the Jesuits as provincial and as cardinal in Buenos Aires.
I asked one Jesuit who knows the pope well how he interpreted this declaration in Rome. He told me that such rhetorical flourishes from Bergoglio are always directed against people, sometimes even just a single, though significant, individual and represent what he finds loathsome and intolerable. My Jesuit informant told me the pope understands power and uses it to devastating effect when there is an individual or a group he believes to be guilty of behavior at complete odds with the Gospel.
To understand why the pope is such a no-nonsense individual on these matters, some appreciation of the context he comes from is needed. He began life, like many Argentinians of his age and generation, as a Peronist.
Peronism is a chaotic, at times self-contradictory, collection of populist, authoritarian and dysfunctional beliefs and political practices some of which have their foundation in the Catholic social teaching of the 1930s, particularly the corporatism of the encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno in 1931.
In Argentina, Peronism created all manner of socially progressive laws but also left a legacy of corruption, political confusion, violence and missing economic opportunities. Politically and economically, the country has underachieved.
Economically, the ravages of international capitalism that exploited its resources and left little for the locals have not helped Argentina. And politically, the country has led a fractured life for more than 50 years with the ghost of Juan Peron authorizing no end of varieties of mutually exclusive and contradictory political movements and parties.
In that political mess, violence had been the constant companion of public life, with the most outstanding moment being the “dirty war” from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. It was something in which the Catholic Church was deeply involved – a significant part, though not all of its leadership turned a blind eye to the killings, murders and torture carried out by the military dictatorship that operated in the name of restoring the Church and Catholic values to the center of Argentinian life.
The ultimately unproductive Peronism of his youth, the political chaos of the country that led to a military dictatorship fighting a war with Argentinians, a Church where the nuncio was the tennis partner of the military dictator and the president of the bishops’ conference was chaplain general to the armed forces and completely supportive of its “saving” role: this is the turbulence that provided the shaping influences on a priest with a deep faith but also a keen sense of the Church’s public role. That was the world that forged Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
He developed a deep antagonism to ideologically driven solutions to anything and his recurrent return to “the people,” what they think/feel/believe. His remaining piece of Peronism is its populism, guided by rational reflection.
Bergoglio prized himself away from tribal allegiances and predictable beliefs and alliances that had been the Peronist way of operating. Then the Gospel kicked in and the parameters of his life became the Gospel and the poor. As well, a deep dose of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius as reinterpreted from the 1960s on, provided him with a Christ-focused, institutionally unadorned approach to faith that could not be dismayed by evidence that the church and its leadership were not all they were expected to be.
These simple resources are the foundation of his radicalism. If you put yourself in his shoes in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, it may well be that these simple elements are the basis for his survival in the tumultuous events of those many years.
What those elements now provide to the church and the world is a distinctive personality who displays many features of a genuinely post-modern personality. He has no respect for statuses and structures unless the people holding them are delivering what they've been put in place to provide. He never invokes tradition to justify his claims or assertions. He seeks to engage and persuade rather than declare and direct. He is a vividly autonomous actor operating from his own subjectivity rather a received set of institutionally generated maxims and boundaries.
Maybe that is why he captured the imagination of a post-modern world.
Dec 24 14 10:20 AM
Pope to refugees in Kurdistan: “you are like Jesus tonight”
Pope Francis this evening telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.
The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.
Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul.
Over the telephone line, the Pope told refugees that he is “close to them with all of his heart” and assured him he praying for them.
“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you.”
“Dear brothers – Pope Francis said - I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness”
Pope sends Christmas greetings to Korea
One of the most memorable moments of the past year was Pope Francis’ historic visit to Korea. On Wednesday, the Holy Father recalled his journey in a video-message addressed to all Koreans for Christmas:
Below, please find the translation of the Pope's Christmas message to Korea:
Dear Korean brothers and sisters,
With great pleasure I send you best wishes for the Holy Nativity, recalling with joy and gratitude the Voyage I took to your country this past August. The great celebration in honour of the Martyrs, the meeting with young people, and also the other moments of the visit remain vividly in my memory.
I pray the Lord that the light, shining on the world from the Baby of Bethlehem, might be always in your hearts, in your families and communities.
At Christmas, once more, Jesus draws us to Himself with His divine goodness. And Jesus is good, very good… It is His presence only that can give true happiness to mankind; without Him there is none, because He is capable of making life ever new and beautiful.
My dear friends, I ask you to pray for me, and from my heart I wish you a peaceful and holy Christmas!
Dec 24 14 2:06 PM
Just two days after blasting the Vatican’s upper echelons for being infected by careerism, gossip, and “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Pope Francis on Wednesday said the message of Christmas is that God’s “patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption.” Though the pontiff did not link his Christmas Eve meditation to his blistering critique on Monday of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s main administrative bureaucracy, many observers couldn’t help but have that tongue-lashing in mind as he spoke. “People who were unassuming, open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light,” Francis said, referring to the star that, according to the New Testament, marked the birth of the Christ child. “This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others,” the pope said, echoing some of the language he used in his Curia address. GettyFrancis made the remarks in his homily for the Vatican’s traditional Christmas Eve Mass, celebrated Wednesday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica. Christmas recalls the birth of Christ, which, according to traditional Christian doctrine, marks the humble human birth of the Son of God in order to offer salvation to the world. “The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery,” the pope said in his brief remarks Wednesday night, “and ushers in joy and happiness.” “The unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred, and oppression,” Francis said. “But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting … he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.” Reprising one of his favourite themes, Francis said that Christmas captures the “tenderness” of God’s love. “The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God,” he said. “God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.” He suggested that message invites all Christians to an examination of conscience. “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel?” he asked. “How much the world needs tenderness today!” the pope said. Although Francis largely followed the traditional Vatican script for his second Christmas Eve Mass as pope, there were two changes that reflected his personal imprint. First, for the traditional Christmas piece Et incarnatus est, meaning “He has become incarnate,” an arrangement by Mozart from his Mass in D minor was performed by a symphony orchestra rather than the traditional recitation using Gregorian chant. The performance was conducted by Manfred Honeck, an Austrian and devout Catholic who currently leads the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra in the United States. Pope Francis knelt during the piece, which he has described in the past as “insuperable.” The director of the Sistine Choir, Italian Monsignor Massimo Palombella, acknowledged it’s unusual to mix an arrangement by a secular composer, even one as renowned as Mozart, into such a solemn liturgy. However, he said it’s consistent with the reform vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which is close to the heart of Pope Francis, that the Catholic Church should not claim “a closed or exclusive vision of reality,” but rather one “open to dialogue with modernity.” Second, rather than allowing a deacon to carry the small image of the infant Jesus from the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica to a small nativity set at the conclusion of the Mass, Francis insisted on performing the gesture himself. APThere were also a couple of other classic Francis touches during the Christmas Eve liturgy. Bunches of flowers to adorn the image of the Christ child were presented by 10 small children ranging in age from five to 10, including children from both South Korea and the Philippines, Asian nations Francis has either visited or is preparing to visit, and also Syria and Lebanon, reflecting his concern for the Christians of the Middle East. On Tuesday, Francis released a special Christmas letter to the Christians of the Middle East, describing them as victims of “a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts.” Though the pontiff did not name ISIS, the reference to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was clear. Also on Wednesday night, the gifts for the celebration of the Mass were presented by married couples and their children, reflecting the pope’s concern for the family ahead of a September visit to the United States for a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families and a Synod of Bishops on the family in October at the Vatican. On Christmas Day, Pope Francis will deliver the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and to the world,” at noon Rome time. He’ll also offer a noontime address the next day, Dec. 26, which on the Catholic calendar is the feast of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr who was stoned to death. Next week, the pope is scheduled to lead a vespers service on New Year’s Eve and then to celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s Day.
Dec 25 14 4:15 AM
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!
Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies. The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.
Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him. And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child. Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognized in Jesus the Messiah. “My eyes have seen your salvation”, Simeon exclaimed, “the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:30). AP
Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!
Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world. May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity. May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.
May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where [even in these hours] more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed. I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence. AP
May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children. May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week. May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea. As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.
The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods. Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth. May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness. Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.
With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!
Dec 25 14 6:06 AM
The Pope remember the ‘abused children, killed before they see the light’ and ‘slaughtered’
In the Urbi et Orbi Christmas message, Pope Francis asks for hope, closeness and aid for the exiles and refugees. He asks for peace in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine and remembers the Ebola victims
‘Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him,.. Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!’ Pope Francis said this in his Urbi et Orbi Christmas message, which he gave at midday today from the central Loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica before a very crowded square. In his message, the Pope spoke strong words about the tragedy of abused children, killed in their mothers’ wombs and slaughtered by bombs.
Firstly, the Pope talked about the situation in the Middle East. ‘I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world. May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity’.
Francis asked that peace be granted to the entire Middle Eastern region, starting from the Holy Land, wishing that ‘the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians’ may be sustained.
The Pope added: ‘May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation’. Francis then remembered Nigeria, ‘where more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed’. He then said: ‘I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence’.
The Pope then asked the Child of Bethlehem to save ‘the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers’.
‘The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their
blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.’
He also to asked Jesus to comfort ‘the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week’, and be close to ‘all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea’. Francis thanked those who ‘are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members’ and renewed his ‘urgent’ appeal to provide the ‘necessary assistance and treatment.’
Pope Francis ended by saying that ‘there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus… May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalisation of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness. Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”’.
Pope at Christmas: Transform swords to plowshares
Pope Francis used his annual Christmas message Thursday to call for an end to conflicts throughout the world, mentioning particularly Christians in the Middle East suffering a "brutal persecution" and many children in the region who he said have been "massacred under bombing."
Ending the message, known as the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing and given each Christmas on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pope called for the power of Christ "to be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery."
"May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference," asked Francis. "May his redeeming strength transform arms into plowshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness."
Continuing, the pope said: "Then we will be able to cry out with joy: 'Our eyes have seen your salvation.'"
Taking a particularly somber note to the message, given by the pontiff each year before granting of an apostolic blessing, Francis made reference to many global conflicts: from those suffering horrific violence from the so-called Islamic State, to the continuing crisis in Ukraine, to many different clashes on the African continent.
But Francis seemed to take his most personal tone when mentioning the many child victims of violence around the world, adding a section to his prepared text to address the issue.
Speaking directing to the child Jesus whose birth Christians celebrate on Christmas, Francis said his thoughts on the holy day "go to all children today killed and mistreated."
His thoughts, the pontiff said, go to children "deprived of the generous love of their parents and buried in the selfishness of a culture that doesn't love life" and to "those children displaced because of wars and persecution, abused and exploited under our eyes and our silent complicity."
Francis said his thoughts also go to "children massacred in the bombing, even there where the Son of God was born."
"Even today, they cry helplessly silent under the sword of many Herods," said Francis. "Truly, many tears there are this Christmas together with the tears of Baby Jesus!"
The Christmas papal message is one of two occasions each year where the pope gives a blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the other being at Easter.
Francis' mention Thursday to turning swords into plowshares is a reference to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote of a time when the world's nations will dismantle their weapons and turn them into tools of peace.
The passage is used frequently by Christian peace activists, who invoke the image particularly in calling for the dismantling of the world's nuclear arsenals.
In his message to some tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square Thursday, Francis spoke particularly of "our brothers and sisters" in Iraq and Syria, who he said "for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution."
"May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world," said the pontiff.
"May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity," he continued.
What child is this?
Pope prays on Christmas for end to ‘brutal persecution’ in Iraq, Syria
ROME — Hours after making a Christmas Eve phone call to Iraqi refugees to express his closeness and to ask them to persevere, Pope Francis implored God on Christmas Day to aid the victims of a “brutal persecution” in Iraq and Syria.
“I ask him, the Savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict and, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution,” he said.
“There are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Christ child,” the pontiff said toward the end of his brief remarks, seeming visibly moved.
Although the pope did not cite the Islamic State by name, his reference to upheaval caused by the militant Islamic movement was clear. An estimated 120,000 Christians, along with large numbers of Yazidis and other minority groups, have fled ISIS forces in northern Iraq over the past six months, many of them now living in makeshift refugee camps.
“May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries, and live with dignity,” Francis said.
Also with regard to the Middle East, the pontiff appealed for support for all those “committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Francis concluded his brief remarks with a prayer that God’s “redeeming strength … transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, [and] hatred into love and tenderness.”
The comments came in the pope’s noontime message for Christmas Day, known as the Urbi et Orbi blessing, meaning “to the city and to the world.” He delivered it in Italian from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, overlooking a crowded square.
Among other festive flourishes, Francis was greeted by a musical band of the Italian Carabineri, Italy’s national military police, decked out in full dress uniform.
Popes typically use the Urbi et Orbi address to call for peace and to offer words of consolation and hope for people caught in especially traumatic situations, and that was the theme of Francis’ remarks.
Francis called for peaceful resolution of a series of other conflict situations, including Ukraine, Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He offered sympathy for the victims of the Ebola epidemic, citing above all Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and also the families of the children killed in an attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Tuesday that left an estimated 145 people dead, the vast majority children.
“I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence,” the pope said.
He also voiced concern for children facing other forms of hardship, including “so many children who are abused and exploited … buried under a culture that doesn’t love life.”
“May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers,” he said. He added that his thoughts also go to children “killed before seeing the light,” a reference to abortion.
Francis’ phone call to refugees at the Ankawa tent camp, outside the Iraqi city of Irbil, came shortly before he celebrated the traditional Mass for Christmas night in St. Peter’s Basilica. The call was made using a satellite phone and was broadcast live on Italian television.
Shortly after the call began, the satellite connection was lost, so Francis continued his remarks for the television host and they were later relayed to the refugees.
“Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” he told them, saying he was thinking particularly of children and the elderly.
“Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children … I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross,” Francis said.
The fate of religious minorities in the Middle East, especially the region’s beleaguered Christian population, has been a major preoccupation for Pope Francis during this Christmas season.
On Tuesday, the pope released an unusual open letter to the Christians of the Middle East, describing them as victims “of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts.”
“It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times,” the pope wrote.
“This suffering cries out to God,” the pope wrote, “and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible.”
During the Christmas Eve Mass at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Latin Rite Patriarch Fouad Twal echoed the pope’s appeal for peace, calling on Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Middle East to find ways to live together in a spirit of “equality and reciprocal respect.”
The Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who oversees the Franciscan presence in the Middle East, released a Christmas statement saying that this year the holiday’s message of hope is especially needed.
“Even in our Middle East, so thirsty for justice and dignity, for truth and love, Christ comes to us,” Pizzaballa said.
“We’re realists,” he said. “We can’t change the destiny of the world, or resolve the problems of our lacerated and divided peoples … but nothing can take away the love and hope that will never disappoint us.”
The Urbi et Orbi blessing capped a busy Christmas season for Pope Francis, which began Monday with a speech to the Vatican’s upper echelons in which he ticked off a series of 15 spiritual diseases with which he believes senior officials at times are infected, including the “terrorism of gossip” and “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
Barring another of Francis’ trademark surprises, the next time the pontiff is scheduled to appear in public will be Sunday for a noontime Angelus address. Next week, the pontiff will preside over a vespers service for New Year’s Eve and a Mass for New Year’s Day.
Dec 25 14 6:18 AM
Pope Francis And His Gift For Blending The Spiritual And The Political
In the 21 months since his election, the first pope to take the name of Saint Francis has emerged as a moral leader on the global stage, addressing both Catholics and the world beyond.
A recent Pew worldwide survey showed an overwhelmingly favorable view of the pope. And that was before his crucial role in the U.S.-Cuba thaw was revealed.
Hours before the diplomatic breakthrough was announced on Dec. 17, Pope Francis stood on his popemobile, kissing babies and greeting crowds in St. Peter's Square for his weekly audience.
It was also his 78th birthday, and hundreds of couples came to perform the tango to celebrate an Argentine who was once very adept on the dance floor.
A more austere Francis appeared last month at the European Parliament. The first pope from outside the West bluntly told European leaders their continent is weary and becoming irrelevant.
"A 'grandmother' Europe, no longer fertile and vibrant," he called the old continent. "As a result," he added, "the great ideas that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."
Francis is a master at blending the spiritual with the political.
He has overhauled the Vatican's finances, long tainted by suspicion of money laundering.
He picked two clerical sex abuse survivors to join his new commission on protection of minors.
And he appointed a council of nine cardinals to assist him in reforming the dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy.
At the recent bishops' assembly on the family, Francis broke new ground as he encouraged free speech and an exchange of ideas.
Veteran Vatican analyst Marco Politi says Francis wants to reshape the church for the contemporary world, abolishing its imperial nature, "where the pope is half-emperor and half-God."
"He wants a pope as bishop of Rome," says Politi, "he wants the church led not by an absolute monarch, but the pope in collegiality with the bishops, in the decision-taking process."
Vatican watchers say Francis does not intend to alter doctrine, but unlike his two predecessors, he does not use the expression "non-negotiable values." The prevailing concept now is mercy.
Argentine journalist Elisabetta Pique' has known the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio for more than a decade. What most distinguishes him from his predecessors, she says, was his proximity to his flock in the shantytowns of a large metropolis.
"Thirteen million people, with terrible differences and gaps between very rich people and what he calls the excluded ones, from a country, Argentina, very rich, but with lots of problems, because of corruption, mismanagement," she says.
In the United States, which Francis visits in September, the Pew survey shows he has a 78 percent favorable rating.
But John Allen, the veteran Vatican analyst for The Boston Globe, says the first pope from the global south has irritated some conservative Americans by criticizing laissez-faire capitalism and the ills of globalization. (Which may go to show that they truly only care about business and profit, or at least far more than they care about people.)
"In his bones, the defense of immigrants is a hugely important issue, immigration is a divisive political question in the United States," Allen says. "He is deeply suspicious of free market global capitalism. (The U.S. is) the mother ship of free market global capitalism, so there is some resistance there."
There is also resistance within the Catholic Church, and Vatican analyst Politi fears what he calls the strategy of the swamp.
"A lot of people in the church hierarchy let him speak, applaud and do nothing," he says.
A pope alone, says Politi, cannot change an institution with 1.2 billion members.
"For a pope to change the church, you need an engaged laity, you need engaged theologians, really engaged pro-reform bishops," he says.
One of those is Archbishop Bruno Forte, author of the controversial section in the recent synod's draft report that welcomed gays. Yet that conciliatory language was rejected by traditionalists in the final report.
"If you decide to be transparent and to accept that the diversity of opinions may have room in the church," says Forte, "it is normal that there are also people who do not agree completely with you."
It's said that behind Vatican walls, a whispering campaign is trying to undermine the pope's authority. ("Whispering"? I think the campaign has already gone far beyond mere "whispering". And wouldn't it be interesting to know who in the Curia are promoting such an insidious project! Clearly, whoever these prelates are - and in my opinion, prelates are involved, for it is they who have the most to lose when Francis' reforms are in place - their interests do not involve the Church.)
But beyond the Catholic fold, Francis' humble streak and merciful tone have made him one of the world's most popular newsmakers.
He was featured in a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." And Fortune magazine declared him the most influential person in the world.
Argentine journalist Pique says Francis tackles everyday problems.
"Human trafficking, poverty, migration, all these people escaping wars, all the big problems that our leaders have failed to address, that is why he's has become a leader, a moral international leader," she says.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Over the centuries that religious order often waged its own diplomacy, acquiring extensive knowledge of other cultures.
The training shows: On Syria, Francis was closer to Russia and China than to Western powers; he hosted a prayer summit with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders; and as the first Latin American pope, he had street cred in Havana.
The pope who described himself coming from the other end of the earth has embraced the bully pulpit of the papacy, emerging as a daring, independent broker on the global stage.
Dec 26 14 6:32 AM
‘May the sacrifice of the martyrs strengthen the commitment to freedom of belief’
In the Angelus on St. Stephen’s Day, Pope Francis exhorts Christians to remain coherent with the faith they profess
‘Those persecuted for their faith are at the heart of the Chruch. Not those Christians who live as pagans’. Francis turns the Angelus on St. Stephen’s Day into a collective prayer for the persecuted Christians and stigmatises the ‘fake Christmas that tastes sickly-sweet’. Today’s feast day for the first Christian martyr, the deacon Stephen, ‘shows us how to fully live the Christmas mystery’, says the Pope, highlighting Jesus’ words to his disciples at the moment when he sends them on a mission, which we read in the liturgy of this feast day. Jesus says ‘Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’, even if they ‘do not upset Christmas celebrations, they divest it of that fake sickly-sweet cover that does not belong to them’.
‘The let us understand that, in the trials we accept because of faith, violence is defeated by love, death by life’.
The faithful, gathered in St. Peter’s square for the Angelus, sang out ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Hooray for the Pope’ as a homage to Francis. According to the Pope, ‘in order to welcome Jesus truly in our life, and prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the way is that which is indicated in this Gospel, namely to give testimony to Jesus in humility, silent service and with no fear of going against the current and paying the price personally’. Therefore, ‘although not everyone is called, like St. Stephen, to spill their blood, every Christian is called to be coherent in every circumstance with the faith he professes’.
Moreover, ‘following the Gospel is definitely a demanding path, but great, really great, and those who walk on this path with loyalty and courage receive the promised gift from God to men and women of good will, as the Angels sang on Christmas Day: “Peace, peace!”. This peace given by God is able to clear the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know how to welcome the Word of God and are committed to observing it to the end’.
On this day, when the Catholic Church remembers its first martyr, St. Stephen, the religious news website Il Sismografo, reports that the appeals of the faithful, the bishops and the newspapers were useless. The Police of the Guerrero state, in Mexico, has confirmed the discovery of the body of Father Gregorio López Gorostieta, kidnapped last Monday while he was in his room in the seminary of Ciudad Altamirano. The terrible discovery happened in the Tlapehuala municipality, which counts 9 thousand citizens, not far from the place where, weeks ago, the body of a missionary from Uganda, called Father John Ssenyondo, was found, who had been kidnapped last 30th of April too.
With the murder of Father López Gorostieta, the number priests killed in Mexico in 2014 goes up to three; 12 throughout the whole American continent. In Peru, last Wednesday, Father Alfonso Comina Zevallos – 56 years old - was killed in the course of a violent robbery.
Pope Francis’ words about ‘Christian coherence’ will remain as a warning. ‘Christian coherence is a grace that we must ask for to the Lord; to be coherent, to live as Christians, and not only to say we are Christians while living as pagans’.
The Pope wishes that, in every corner of the globe, the commitment to recognising and actively ensuring freedom of belief, which is an ‘inalienable right of every human being’. To the martyrs of the third millennium, Francis guarantees that the universal Church will pray for ‘those who are persecuted, discriminated and even killed because of their testimony to Christ’. Moreover, to each of them he says that ‘if you carry this cross with love, you will join in the Christmas mystery; you will be at the heart of Christ and the Church’.
From St. Peter’s square, filled with the faithful, a prayer rises up ‘so that, thanks to the sacrifice of today’s martyrs’, namely those who are discriminated and persecuted because of their Christian faith, ‘the commitment in every part of the world strengthens to recognise and actively ensure freedom of belief, which is an inalienable right of every human being’. Lastly, the Pope remembered that ‘in these weeks, I have received many wishes from Rome, Italy and every part of the world. Since it is not possible for me to answer each one of them, I now express to you all my heartfelt thanks, especially for the gift of your prayer. Thank you sincerely! May the Lord recompense you for your generosity’.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen. Chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.
The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on mission. Among other things, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life. To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.
Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will. At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).
Today let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church.
Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and Proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us, who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the Saints in paradise.
After the Angelus:Dear brothers and sisters,
I greet you in the joy of Christmas and I renew my best wishes for peace for all of you: peace in families, in parishes and religious communities, in movements, and in associations.
I greet everyone named Stephen or Stephanie: Best wishes!
In these past few weeks I have received so many Christmas greetings from Rome, and elsewhere. Because it is not possible for me to respond to each one, I want to express today my heartfelt thanks for all of them, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you from the heart! May the Lord repay your generosity.
And don’t forget: Christian coherence — that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan. Not that! Today let us ask Stephen for the gift of Christian coherence…
And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!
Happy Feast Day, and have a good lunch. Arrivederci!
Dec 27 14 4:19 AM
The tongues are certainly wagging worldwide over the Christmas message of Pope Francis to Vatican staff – the priests, monsignors, bishops and cardinals gathered for an end of year assessment by the pope. A few perfunctory words to round out a very busy year or a general expression of thanks for various contributions? Not at all! A full-on, Gospel-based account of the trappings of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy that can beset professional Catholic administrators and an implied warning that more is to come when the anticipated plans to restructure the Roman Curia are announced in the next couple of months. “Where did this one come from and why at Christmas?” is the understandable question on many minds, not least those whose tenure in their jobs depends on the one making the damning assessment. But there's nothing new in what the pope said, observers of the Vatican and those who have worked closely with bishops and cardinals in Rome have told me. “You could find any number of cardinals and bishops saying the same thing to my certain knowledge up to five decades ago,” one previously highly placed and now retired lay Church official in Rome told me. So how and why did the Argentinian pope come to say it now to the clergy among the Vatican's staff, especially as he subsequently met with the Vatican's lay staff to thank them for all the sacrifices they make in their service of the Vatican every day? What drove the first pope in history to dump so completely, publically and unceremoniously on his curia and go to the heart of the Gospel to find a basis for his commentary? Jesuits in Argentina I spoke to were not surprised at all by what the pope had to say in Rome. This behavior was vary familiar in Fr. Bergoglio's modus operandi with the Jesuits as provincial and as cardinal in Buenos Aires. I asked one Jesuit who knows the pope well how he interpreted this declaration in Rome. He told me that such rhetorical flourishes from Bergoglio are always directed against people, sometimes even just a single, though significant, individual and represent what he finds loathsome and intolerable. My Jesuit informant told me the pope understands power and uses it to devastating effect when there is an individual or a group he believes to be guilty of behaviour at complete odds with the Gospel. To understand why the pope is such a no-nonsense individual on these matters, some appreciation of the context he comes from is needed. He began life, like many Argentinians of his age and generation, as a Peronist. Peronism is a chaotic, at times self-contradictory, collection of populist, authoritarian and dysfunctional beliefs and political practices some of which have their foundation in the Catholic social teaching of the 1930s, particularly the corporatism of the encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno in 1931. In Argentina, Peronism created all manner of socially progressive laws but also left a legacy of corruption, political confusion, violence and missing economic opportunities. Politically and economically, the country has underachieved. Economically, the ravages of international capitalism that exploited its resources and left little for the locals have not helped Argentina. And politically, the country has led a fractured life for more than 50 years with the ghost of Juan Peron authorizing no end of varieties of mutually exclusive and contradictory political movements and parties. In that political mess, violence had been the constant companion of public life, with the most outstanding moment being the “dirty war” from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. It was something in which the Catholic Church was deeply involved – a significant part, though not all of its leadership turned a blind eye to the killings, murders and torture carried out by the military dictatorship that operated in the name of restoring the Church and Catholic values to the center of Argentinian life. The ultimately unproductive Peronism of his youth, the political chaos of the country that led to a military dictatorship fighting a war with Argentinians, a Church where the nuncio was the tennis partner of the military dictator and the president of the bishops’ conference was chaplain general to the armed forces and completely supportive of its “saving” role: this is the turbulence that provided the shaping influences on a priest with a deep faith but also a keen sense of the Church’s public role. That was the world that forged Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He developed a deep antagonism to ideologically driven solutions to anything and his recurrent return to “the people,” what they think/feel/believe. His remaining piece of Peronism is its populism, guided by rational reflection. Bergoglio prized himself away from tribal allegiances and predictable beliefs and alliances that had been the Peronist way of operating. Then the Gospel kicked in and the parameters of his life became the Gospel and the poor. As well, a deep dose of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius as reinterpreted from the 1960s on, provided him with a Christ-focused, institutionally unadorned approach to faith that could not be dismayed by evidence that the church and its leadership were not all they were expected to be. These simple resources are the foundation of his radicalism. If you put yourself in his shoes in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, it may well be that these simple elements are the basis for his survival in the tumultuous events of those many years. What those elements now provide to the church and the world is a distinctive personality who displays many features of a genuinely post-modern personality. He has no respect for statuses and structures unless the people holding them are delivering what they've been put in place to provide. He never invokes tradition to justify his claims or assertions. He seeks to engage and persuade rather than declare and direct. He is a vividly autonomous actor operating from his own subjectivity rather a received set of institutionally generated maxims and boundaries. Maybe that is why he captured the imagination of a post-modern world.
Dec 27 14 8:05 AM
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