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Pope Francis exhorts curia on communion, diversity, and synodality

The pontiff, in his annual pre-Christmas address, compared his audience to Naaman, the Syrian general and war hero who secretly suffered from leprosy and sought healing from the prophet, Elisha.

Pope Francis speaks during an audience to exchange Christmas greetings with members of the Roman Curia in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Dec. 23, 2021. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis gave a speech to the high officials of the Roman curia on Thursday, and something – it’s safe to say – got lost in translation, but not the core of the message, which can fairly be summed up as: Merry Christmas, you lepers!

Now, Pope Francis didn’t quite say that – not in words – but he did compare his audience to Naaman, the Syrian general and war hero who secretly suffered from leprosy and sought healing from the prophet, Elisha. The pope also contrasted his hearers with the attitude of the shepherds, the Magi, and Jesus.

It wasn’t just any old talk, either. It was the traditional end-of-year allocution to the senior officeholders in Rome’s central governing apparatus. Couched as “Christmas greetings” and conducted under a veneer of cordiality, the speech is among the most highly anticipated and closely attended papal events of any year.

Pope Francis didn’t just want his audience to hear him, in other words. He wanted the world to hear him telling them what he told them.

“The mystery of Christmas,” said Pope Francis, “is the mystery of God who enters the world by the path of humility.” Only, “Our times seem either to have forgotten humility,” or at least, he went on to say, the hierarchical leaders and governors of the Church have “relegated it to a form of moralism, emptying it of its explosive power.” Pope Francis said that, if we had to put the whole mystery of Christmas in a word, it struck him that “humility is the one most helpful.”

“It is not easy to understand what humility is,” Pope Francis said, calling it “the effect of a change that the Spirit himself brings about in us in our daily lives,” and offering the case of Naaman the Syrian in example.

“In the days of the prophet Elisha,” Pope Francis explained, “this man enjoyed great renown,” having proven himself time and again in battle. “Yet together with fame, power, esteem, honors and glory, Naaman was forced to live with a tragic situation: he had leprosy.” His armor helped him win victory in the field and made him known, but it concealed a gruesome disease.

“We often find this contradiction in our lives,” Pope Francis said, further noting that great gifts are sometimes “the armor that covers great frailties.” Some apparently find such contradiction more often than others. “[M]y desire for you, and for myself,” he continued, “is that we may allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of Christmas and the manger, by the poverty and simplicity with which the Son of God entered into the world.”

“[M]indful of our own leprosy,” Pope Francis said in conclusion, “and shunning the worldly thinking that deprives us of our roots and branches, let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of the Child Jesus,” adding that he and the officials are “here” in order “to learn how to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, not other lords in their empty trappings.”

Then, something interesting happens in the official translations.

“We are like the shepherds,” it reads, “we are like the Magi; we are like Jesus.” The Italian – supposed to be the original – says Siamo come i pastori, etc., which could be either, “We are like the shepherds,” etc., or “Let us be like the shepherds,” etc. The French uses the indicative, as well, but the Spanish uses the subjunctive form: Seamos como los pastores, etc. It’s one thing to declare oneself and others to be the good guys, and quite another to exhort oneself and others to be like the good guys. For what it’s worth, the Spanish seems to capture the sense better than the other translations.

Two other things from the speech stood out pretty boldly, too.

One was Pope Francis’s insistence that communion in the Church not only admits of diversity but requires it. “Seeing things from the standpoint of communion also entails acknowledging our diversity as a gift of the Holy Spirit,” he said. Again, you’d have a hard time proving him wrong. “Whenever we step back from this,” he went on to say, “and regard communion as a synonym of uniformity, we weaken and stifle the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in our midst.”

Church-watchers will wonder how that squares with the reasons Pope Francis himself gave for his recent restrictions on the use of older liturgical books, and whether the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is getting all the memos.

The other was his insistence that the purpose of the Roman curia is to serve the Church’s mission of evangelization. Now, one would be hard pressed to make a case for his being wrong about that.

“The curia,” said Pope Francis, “is not merely a logistical and bureaucratic instrument for meeting the needs of the universal Church, but the first body called to bear witness.”

The curia may well be more than a mere logistical and bureaucratic instrument, but certainly is both of those things. Whatever else the curia is, or may be, it is a bureaucracy. Forgetfulness of that will not help one make it into something it’s not. Such forgetfulness – if that’s what it is – can only be a recipe for quite possibly disastrous failure.

In any case, where the curia stands in the pecking order of witness is a matter capable of opinion. How the curia should go about serving the Church’s evangelizing mission, is likewise an opinable question.

Also, one should expect Church-watchers and Church leaders to ask: Is the curia really the “first” body, though? If so, in what sense is the curia the “first” body called to bear witness?

“Precisely for this reason,” Francis continued, “it grows in prestige and effectiveness when it embraces in first person the challenges of that synodal conversion to which it too is called.” If one reads quickly, that sounds like an answer. Even folks who are very excited about the “synodal journey” on which Francis has taken the Church, however, remain rather perplexed about what synodality is and where the Church is supposed to be headed.


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About Christopher R. Altieri 188 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.

36 Comments

  1. Synodal conversion. “Our times”, meaning, we, that we’ve “forgotten humility or to have relegated it to a form of moralism, emptying it of its explosive power” (Francis). From the impersonal reference to wordly Zeitgeist to the personal members of the Curia, putatively each of us. Allusion for us to convert from moralism and humbly embrace Tutti. All are Fratelli. Appeal to the fratelli on Christ’s teaching on morals, Apostolic tradition, is that moralistic?
    +Dropping stones. “Jesus does not come into the world in Herod’s palace, under the spotlight, but is born in a stable. Christ is not the son of known people, but of poor people, and his whole life is a taking from the periphery, starting from the margins and placing them in the center” (Fr Epicoco When the Forgotten are Saved). Required reading for stodgy Curia to discard stodgy moralism and embrace the marginalized fratelli. But I thought Christ and our Church taught this since his birthday? Is it then, Not simply those fratelli who repent, confess their sins prior to communion, rather tutti?
    +This is conversion Papa Francesco style. Pardon me, I’m suspicious of conversions to anyone other than Christ, and Him Crucified. The narrow rough way of the Cross to which the Apostle sought crucifixion to the world and the world to himself. Synodality is conducive to Epicoco surprises, those surprises of the Spirit envisioned by His Holiness. Am I off base on this?

    • No you are not off base Father. I find it a mystery as to why Francis continuously treats the very concept of morality as holding negative connotations. There is no other way to interpret such petulance other than a perpetual narcissistic blending of benign sounding phrases distorted and misapplied into incoherence in order to create the impression of esoteric brilliance to impress the softminded that they are listening to something never heard before in human history rather than achieve the sort of humble witness he professes to be the purpose of witness.

    • Well,Well! Personal Agenda? Give me a break. !Some one’s conscience has been tweaked.
      Trappings must be abolished.
      The Church has to bear witness through holiness of life and service.
      Trappings don’t make the man! We are too I influenced by the world. The awe factor kicks in when we judge the trappings rather than the life and actions of the person. Thank you Pope Franci. I hope you live long enough to make this millennium flourish with holiness as predicted by Pope StJohnPaulIIpredicted…
      Sadly we can’t win them (whoever)all.

  2. Francis humble? I can’t stop laughing.

    Was he humble in his refusal to meet four Cardinals who issued a dubia on Amortis laetitia?

    Was Francis humble when he referred to members of Christ’s Church as coprophiliacs or similar language?

    Is Francis humble when he rips the Latin Mass away from a considerable number of Christ’s faithful?

    We all could go on and on giving examples of Francis running roughshod over the Body of Christ.

    I am one who stopped listening to the endless diatribes issued by pontiff Francis a long, long time ago.

    • I really wonder if there is a world leader today who is more “rigid” than Pope Francis. Has he truly entertained a new idea since 1968?
      Media reports of this particular talk say that he, once again, attributed interest in the Latin Mass to nostalgia. He’s been beating his same, worn out drums for nearly 8 years now. Rigid?
      My Christmas gift to Pope Francis is a video recently posted on YouTube. It features a 43 year old priest who lives an unconventional (non-rigid?) life. I sincerely wish that Pope Francis would see this. Maybe it would help him break out of his own rigid prejudice. If he would watch the entire video, he just might encounter the “God of Surprises” with the help of a priest who was born several years after Vatican II.
      I’ll copy the YouTube link here, but if that doesn’t work, you can search: “Kirsten Dirksen; Young Priest Turns Forsaken Farm into Paradise Homestead”. (Please excuse the hyperbole, it is YouTube after all.)
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MF1jJy1F-8I

  3. Altieri concludes: “Even folks who are very excited about the “synodal journey” on which Francis has taken the Church, however, remain rather perplexed about what synodality is and where the Church is supposed to be headed.”

    Worst case? Replace the curia with Continental Drift.

  4. “Even folks who are very excited about the “synodal journey” on which Francis has taken the Church, however, remain rather perplexed about what synodality is –” Many Catholic websites explain it quite clearly.
    Bishop Baron writes that it is not a process of democratization, or putting doctrine up for a vote. According to him it is “a structured conversation among all of the relevant ecclesial players—bishops, priests, and laity—for the sake of hearing the voice of the Spirit.” https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/what-is-synodality/26635/
    Then we read a similar explanation from Catholic Project. “The word “synod” and may be new to many Catholics, but the reality described by it has been part of the life of the Church since Apostolic times. “Synod” comes from two Greek words meaning, “walking together.” A synod is an ecclesial gathering with the goal of discerning what the Holy Spirit is asking of the Church at the time.”
    I say that all Catholics should pray that our Lord’s Church continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

  5. “Even folks who are very excited about the ‘synodal journey’ on which Francis has taken the Church, however, remain rather perplexed about what synodality is and where the Church is supposed to be headed.”

    There is no reason for anyone to be perplexed. “Synodality” is a stage-managed exercise in which anyone and everyone is allowed to speak in order to provide the illusion that they are heard. The purpose of this empty show is to provide camouflage for Bergoglio’s imposition of the preordained ideological ukases that he wants to dictate to the Church and thus pretend that they are magisterial teachings.

  6. The speeches and statements of pope Francis are difficult for me to comprehend. My thought process uses fewer words with coherent connections. His presentations use many words trying to make points which I cannot understand or make sense in my mind as I hear or read them. Maybe that is why some dioceses feel they have to give lectures on Francis’ statements in order to try to present what they think pope Francis is trying to communicate— Fr. Richard Perozich, retired San Diego

      • By what criterion of discernment does one distinguish that their spiritual exercises are mere role-playing egotistical activities rather than the explosive power of a restored humility? Is it the plenitude of corrections that one offers to others? Otherwise, a blessed Christmas.

  7. I’ve read Christopher Altieri’s articles for a while now in an attempt to understand what it is he sees, and he is a good writer, but there is now no doubt in my mind that Francis is little more than a burr under his saddle, and that shapes his interpretation of the pope’s every move. There’s not a great deal of substance to these pieces.

    “[M]indful of our own leprosy and shunning the worldly thinking that deprives us of our roots and branches, let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of the Child Jesus.” And “let us learn how to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, not other lords in their empty trappings.”

    It’s about bloody time that was said, but will these “princes” listen to him? Hardly. It seems very few bishops around the world have taken to heart his exhortations to simplicity, humility, down to earth service, etc. Yes, Pope Francis has been a source of frustration for me as well on certain occasions, but it is all too clear to me that I can’t really expect much objectivity in anything Altieri writes on Pope Francis. He’s just not capable of listening to Francis without irritation.

    And as for you, Father PhD (Morello), I have no idea what you said in your post above, which is typical, and I would have expected much more from you Deacon Edward Peitler. Your arrogant sarcasm is ugly, irreverent, and unbecoming of the office of Deacon.

    • My exact thoughts but I could never have expressed them so well. Thank you. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would Enlighten all of us. Look at ourselves and work with that before we start trying to fix others.

        • Hatred? You are assuming that hatred is the motivation. Your comment reminds me of signs I see occasionally in front yards..”Hate has no home here.” I always suspect that if I would mention, say…Donald Trump…the homeowner just might show some emotion that could be interpreted as hatred. Just maybe.
          A truer yard sign might read, “The line between good and evil runs through each human heart.” Those are Solzhenitsyn’s words of course and true of all of us. So, unfortunately, hate seems to at least keep a guest room in every home. But sometimes critical comments are intended to express genuine concerns. Disagreement and hatred are not synonymous.

  8. Pope Francis is the successor of St Peter and as such should be respected instead of being attacked. We should all be praying for him. The Mass is totally based on Scripture and if people realised it’s easier to understand it in the native tongue rather than Latin perhaps the traditionalists wouldn’t be so wrapped up in an outdated language? Or is it that Latin gives an air of special secret mystery I wonder, satisfying the need to feel superior? A church only concerned with rituals and rites misses the mission of reaching the souls of those whom Jesus himself said he came to save such as the marginalised,poor and spiritually sick. People need a personal relationship with Jesus and often need to be shown how to get this. Street Prayer Mission offering prayer of the love and mercy of Jesus to those who are attracted brings Jesus into lives of those who wouldn’t go near a church.

    • Peter once had the audacity and pride to rebuke Jesus, the very man he had earlier been gifted (by the Father) to recognize as the Son of the Living God. Why?

      Peter didn’t agree with Jesus: “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!”

      But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

      Peter didn’t agree with or find the will of God to his liking. That’s pride.

      Now we have a pope who rebukes his Curia, accusing them of lack of humility. Why? Is it because some oppose Francis’ ideology of faith? Some still retain remnant shreds of faith as handed to them in Scripture, Tradition and the 2000-year Magisterial Deposit of Faith. Francis has demonstrated on many issues and on many occasions that he does not agree with the RCC foundation handed unto him for SAFEKEEPING and PROMULGATING. He has no mandate to REFORM immutable teachings of an IMMUTABLE GOD.

      Absolutely, positively, we all need to pray for the man. And many do. Many offer sacrifice on his behalf.

      Francis’ vision of faith focuses on the world–vaccines, climate change, immigration and poverty per se. (Jesus said the poor would always be with us.
      Poverty is in fact an evangelical counsel, a GOOD that helps us achieve our life goal.)

      Francis allows sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist–throwing the treasure of the Church–its pearl, its very LifeBlood, to those who impugn the very Body they profess to love while crucifying bodies of innocent souls willed by God to life.

      The historical faith of the Catholic Church rests on dogma, the Truth of which centers not on Francis’ peripheries, synods and centers, but on Christ’s Passion and Resurrection so that we may know, love, and serve Him on earth and share His beatitude in the life after this.

      These things simmer under Altieri’s surface as they do under many others. Why not join in our prayer and sacrifice for the man?

      Merry Christmas, Quinn.

      • “Now we have a pope who rebukes his Curia, accusing them of lack of humility. Why?”

        Because he sees them up close and has information that you and I don’t have.

        “ Francis has demonstrated on many issues and on many occasions that he does not agree with the RCC foundation handed unto him for SAFEKEEPING and PROMULGATING. He has no mandate to REFORM immutable teachings of an IMMUTABLE GOD.”

        What immutable teachings is he trying to change? Moreover, although God is immutable, He is infinitely knowable
        and His very existence is His activity. God is not static.

        “Francis’ vision of faith focuses on the world–vaccines, climate change, immigration and poverty per …”

        No. His vision focuses on Christ. Always Christ. It’s just that for him, faith must have relevance and practical implications.

        “Jesus said the poor would always be with us.”

        Sin will always be with us too, as well as temptations. It’s still wise to battle sin.

        “Poverty is in fact an evangelical counsel, a GOOD that helps us achieve our life goal.”

        Is that why you live below the poverty line and get your food from the local food bank?

    • E Quinn: “Pope Francis is the successor of St Peter and as such should be respected instead of being attacked.” Or, conversely, he should be respectful, rather than attacking (e.g., “bigots, rigid, fixistic”).

      The problem from on high in the Church today is not so much blatant falsehoods as militant half-truths. Latin, for example, is not so much an “outdated” language as it is a dead language, meaning that the meaning of words does not change for the convenience of the times. And the Latin Mass does not so much reflect a “secret mystery” and the need to “feel superior” as it is a very public Mystery, and the fact of not being so superior as to cancel Catholic tradition rather than elevating the Novus Ordo as was intended by Pope Benedict. Not sure, either, how the agreed mission of “reaching souls” is the special domain of those who apparently have never read what the Second Vatican Council actually called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution of the Liturgy).

      These comments, mine, come from one who has attended the Latin Mass not more than once or twice in the past twenty years. To respect Pope Francis as the successor of St. Peter is one thing; to refrain from constructive commentary—popolatry?–is another.

      • Constructive commentary is welcome. Not comments arising out of hatred. Even before I read a post or article, I know that it will contain a pre-conceived view of Pope Francis.

        • “Pre-conceived view of Pope Francis”,as you said. To what pre-conceived view do you refer, as most of the Catholic world was expecting many, many great things from him when he started his Papacy. Everything Pope Francis has done is out in the open and not good at all for the Authentic Catholic Church, unless one focuses merely on nice sounding words and totally ignores the blessed reality of the enormous treasure of 2,000 years of discernment and wisdom in the Church.

          The true rigid, inflexible, negative, pre-conceived notion would be to think that Pope Francis could not ever make mistakes, including very serious ones. Church History show that 8 Popes in the past made enormous, grievous, sinful mistakes. The number of Bishops doing the same through history is way larger. Only Jesus is sinless, perfect, infallible God, no one else. We are his Church and his only.

          • I do not think anyone ever believes that Pope Francis, the human being, does not make mistakes – or even commit sin. He himself asks us to pray for him, a sinner.
            There are some who have rejected Vatican2, and so all the Popes during this period are bad, to put it mildly. Some do not like Francis because he is not just a teacher like Benedict, but one who stresses the pastoral nature of our discipleship. They, like the Pharisees, prefer to have rituals and liturgies justifying their Christian fellowship. Some are pro-orthodox and anti-Roman. And some have been fed opinions slanted against Pope Francis.

  9. “[When we] regard communion as a synonym of uniformity, we weaken and stifle the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in our midst.” So shouldn’t driving devotees of the traditional liturgy from the Temple with a whip in the name of uniformity (which word has actually been used to justify these new edicts) be construed as denying the Holy Spirit’s life-giving power and destructive to communion?

      • Meiron said the man (Pope Francis) is full of contradiction, and so are you also full of contradiction. According to your very own words all over this forum, Pope Francis is your god not Jesus (who has no contradictions in Himself) and you are very slippery at justifying whatever Pope Francis says or does. You answer Meiron: “Even Jesus felt that the whip was necessary for dealing with a certain situation”. Very conveniently, you omit that Jesus used a whip for those using the Temple of Jerusalem as an obscene market for profit. Those that Francis attacks are not doing such thing unless you use bizarre, reality twisting, acrobatic language: all-justifying-deception.

        It is also obscene that you responded to me (my “reply” button to you was gone so I respond here) that to justify Francis’ tyrannical “pastoral” style (as his use of the whip you mentioned to Meiron): “They, like the Pharisees, prefer to have rituals and liturgies justifying their Christian fellowship”. Whoa!! These “rituals and liturgies” you dismiss with so much contempt as belonging to “Pharisees” are the HEART of the Church because they have been a DIRECT communion and REAL union with Jesus for 2,000 years of Real Catholicism. Pope Francis “humility” is just a flimsy cover up for his tyranny and so is your assumed Catholicity. No wonder the truth is that you have an absolute belief in Pope Francis as unquestionable god and whatever he says or does. His actions and your action speak way louder than those reason-and-faith-destroying words of yours, the authoritarian-sentimentalist crazification of reality and the Catholic Church.

  10. Leprosy is a detestable infection that can greatly disfigure and destroy the human body. It is transmittable to others through an infected person’s secretions. Sin, in all its forms, is much like leprosy, as it disfigures and destroys the soul, and can infect others, even within the Church, infecting the whole body. Only Christ can heal this leprosy that infects individuals, families, institutions, even the Church. When we come to Jesus with our sin, asking Him to heal us, asking Him to have mercy on us, does He stretch out His hand saying, “I will, be clean!” And only when, acknowledging that we have been cleansed and falling at the feet of Jesus praising and thanking God, is what has been disfigured and destroyed made whole. (See Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 17:11-19)

    Heresy is also like leprosy, as it disfigures and destroys the heart and mind, and it also infects others…infecting the whole body, the Church. May Christ stretch out His hand to cleanse the Church of heresy.

  11. Some dioceses, including my own, Diocese of Manchester, N. H. have not yet acted on the pope’s request that they appoint a contact person for the synod. Is there a humble way in which we could suggest that we want to see some action here?

  12. Dear E. Quinn. Interestingly, regarding your claim about trads feeling ‘superior’ the ONLY priests in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, South Australia who weekly visit and spend time serving meals to homeless people and spend time time with them in the Centre established by the Daughters of Charity many years ago, are the priests of the Traditional Latin Mass community! Gordon Carter. Adelaide. South Australia.

  13. When he was elected, I was excited that Pope Francis said he was dedicating his papacy to the Blessed Mother. However, as time has passed, it appears that, rather than following up our spiritual Mother’s example of humility and honoring Her Son, he is not following up on that promise. It appears to me that he wants to remake the Catholic Church in his own image. His recent decrees regarding the TLM are very hurtful and hard for me to understand. As a lifelong Catholic who grew up with one leg each in the TLM and post-Vatican II Novus Ordo, I believe there is ample room to allow both forms of the Mass. While I seldom attended the TLM in recent years, every time I did, I felt an inner peace and quiet serenity that I have never experienced in the Novus Ordo, which made the TLM even more special to me. Giving the faithful the option to participate in either celebration seems to me to be the true spirit of inclusion.

    I guess I will never understand, in this life, why Pope Francis and his advisors at the Vatican have abandoned millions of Catholics worldwide (some estimates are as high as 15% of active Catholics). I can only pray that we each be humble and wise enough to accept God’s Will and accept it, whatever it may be. And, as the Blessed Mother said at Fatima and other apparitions: Pray for the Holy Father.

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