VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The people who work at the Vatican and in the Roman Curia are supposed to be "sensitive antennas" that faithfully transmit the desires of the pope and receive information from dioceses and Eastern Catholic churches around the world, Pope Francis said.
Remembering that the Curia exists exclusively for the service of the Gospel, the pope and the church is the only way to counter "that imbalanced and degenerate logic of conspiracies or little cliques that, despite all their justifications and good intentions, represent a cancer," the pope said Dec. 21.
Holding his annual pre-Christmas meeting with top officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State and with cardinals living in Rome, Pope Francis said he wanted to build on his previous talks about the reform of the Curia by focusing on its relationship to the world outside the Vatican walls.
His reflections, he said, were based on principles and church laws governing the Curia, but also "on the personal vision I have tried to share" as the process of reforming the Curia has unfolded.
The process began a month after he was elected in March 2013 and is ongoing, which brings to mind, he said, a saying attributed to a 19th-century Belgian cleric and Vatican statesman: "Carrying out reform in Rome is like cleaning an Egyptian Sphinx with a toothbrush."
Still, he said, the process must continue for the good of the Curia itself, the good of the church and, ultimately, the good of the world.
Pope Francis cited as a sign of the work left to be done the danger posed by "traitors of the truth or profiteers of the church's motherhood," meaning personnel hired to give their expertise to the Vatican, but who "let themselves be corrupted by ambition or by vainglory and, when they are delicately let go, erroneously declare themselves to be martyrs of the system, of the 'uninformed pope' or of the 'old guard' rather than reciting a 'mea culpa,'" in admitting their faults.
Repeatedly in his talk, Pope Francis spoke of "diaconal primacy" or the primacy of service, which must characterize his ministry and the work of all in the Curia in imitation of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.
The focus of the Curia, he said, must be on service and not on self-preservation or maintaining areas of influence and power.
Quoting a third-century Christian treatise, Pope Francis said the Curia, like a deacon, must be "the ears and the mouth of the bishop, his heart and his soul."
Listening to the local churches and to the needs of the poor comes first, he said. "I don't think it's an accident that the ear is the organ for hearing, but also for balance."
Looking more closely at the church's relation with the world outside itself, Pope Francis spoke about the new section he created in the Vatican Secretariat of State to oversee the training, assigning and ministry of Vatican nuncios and diplomats around the world.
Vatican diplomacy has no "mundane or material interest," he said, but seeks only to build "bridges, peace and dialogue among nations."
Pope Francis listed as diplomatic priorities "the importance of safeguarding our common home from every destructive selfishness; to affirm that wars bring only death and destruction; to draw from the past the necessary lessons to help us live better in the present, solidly build a future and safeguard it for new generations."
Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue also are essential forms of outreach to the world, the pope said.
The search for Christian unity, he said, "is a journey, but as my predecessors also repeated, it is a journey that is irreversible and with no putting the brakes on."
"The Curia works in this area to promote encounters with our brothers and sisters," Pope Francis said, "to untie the knots of misunderstandings and hostility, to counter the prejudices and the fear of the other that have prevented us from seeing the richness of and in diversity and the depths of the mystery of Christ and of the church, which remain greater than any human expression."
Pope Francis told the cardinals and other Curia officials that the faith celebrated at Christmas must be a living, lively faith that provokes conversion in all who call themselves believers.
"A faith that doesn't put us in crisis is a faith in crisis," he said. "A faith that doesn't make us grow is a faith that must grow; a faith that doesn't question us is a faith that must be questioned; a faith that doesn't enliven us is a faith that must be enlivened; a faith that doesn't shake us is a faith that must be shaken."
If faith does not provoke the faithful to change and grow, the pope said, it really is something that is simply lukewarm or just an idea.
Faith becomes real, he said, only when it "allows God to be born or reborn in the manger of our hearts, when we let the star of Bethlehem lead us to the place where the son of God lies, not among kings and luxury, but among the poor and humble."