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Church reform requires personal conversion, Pope Francis tells Roman Curia

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

To carry out the continuing reform of the Church requires a willingness to change and a commitment to personal conversion, Pope Francis said Saturday, during his annual Christmas greeting to the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia.

Francis quoted St John Henry Newman, who said, “here on earth living is changing, and perfection is the result of many transformations.”

“For Newman, change was conversion, that is, an inner transformation,” the pope said on December 21. “Christian life is actually a journey, a pilgrimage.”

The history of God’s people, the history of the Church, he continued, “has always been marked by departures, shifts, changes. The path, of course, is not purely geographical, but above all symbolic: it is an invitation to discover the movement of the heart which, paradoxically, needs to depart in order to remain, to change in order to be faithful.”

Pope Francis spoke to the cardinals and supervisors of the departments in the Roman Curia inside the Vatican’s Clementine Hall. In the annual Christmas greeting the pope gives his perspective on the implementation of curial reform thus far and his vision for the coming year.

He said reform as personal transformation “has a particular value in our time, because that in which we are living is not simply an era of changes, but a change of era.”

He explained that change, for the Church, is based on fidelity to the deposit of faith and to Tradition.

Reform is not built on nothing, he continued, but builds on the good work which has already been done in the “complex history” of the curia.

Francis highlighted the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel.

Quoting from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he said the aim of the current curial reform is that “customs, styles, schedules, language and every ecclesial structure become an adequate channel for evangelization in the current world, rather than for self-preservation. The reform of the structures, which requires pastoral conversion, can only be understood in this sense: to make them all become more missionary.”

This is why, he explained, it was decided to name the forthcoming apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium, which means “Preach the Gospel.”

Praedicate evangelium, which is expected to be published sometime next year, will replace Pastor bonus, the current apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia promulgated by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1988, and subsequently modified by both popes Benedict and Francis.

In his address, Pope Francis emphasized the need for what St. John Paul II called a “new evangelization, or re-evangelization.”

The world is no longer Christian, he underlined. “Today we are no longer the only ones who produce culture, neither the first nor the most listened to.”

“We therefore need a change of pastoral mentality,” he said, adding that this does not mean “a relativistic pastoral action.”

“We are no longer in a regime of Christianity because faith – especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West – no longer constitutes an obvious presupposition of common life, indeed it is often even denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed,” he stated.

The pope warned against a rigid attitude stemming from a fear of change.

“There is always the temptation to fall back on the past (even using new formulations), because it is more reassuring, known and, certainly, less confrontational,” he said. “However, this too is part of the process and of the risk of initiating significant changes.”

He noted something said by the theologian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in the last interview before his death, “words that must make us question.”

Martini said: “The Church has remained behind two hundred years. How come it does not shake? Are we afraid? Fear instead of courage? However faith is the foundation of the Church. Faith, trust, courage. […] Only love conquers fatigue.”

Reflecting on Christmas and the mystery of the Incarnation, Francis urged the cardinals and bishops to “not forget that the Child lying in the crib has the face of our most needy brothers and sisters, of the poor.”

“Christmas is the feast of God’s love for us. The divine love that inspires, directs and corrects change and defeats the human fear of leaving the ‘safe’ to relaunch us in the ‘mystery,’” he said.

St. John Henry Newman said Christmas, the pope continued, should “find us more and more like Him who, in this time has become a child for our sake; that every new Christmas finds us simpler, more humble, holier, more charitable, more resigned, happier, fuller of God.”