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Pope Francis listens as Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, expresses his best wishes to the pope during an audience with officials of the Roman Curia at the Vatican Dec. 21, 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Blaming one another for the fragility of the Catholic Church and the errors of its members increases conflict, which diminishes the church's ability to share the Gospel and increases opportunities for the devil to work, Pope Francis told members of the Roman Curia.

Crises are a normal part of life, including the life of faith, and must be accepted as challenges to discern and to change, leaving behind what is not essential, Pope Francis said Dec. 21.

"Crisis generally has a positive outcome," he said, "whereas conflict always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight. In such a situation, only one side can win."

In his annual pre-Christmas meeting with Curia officials, Pope Francis insisted the world should learn from the coronavirus pandemic, especially about how all people are brothers and sisters, that all have been made vulnerable by the threat of disease and all have been impacted spiritually, socially and economically by the pandemic.

In the same way that the crisis is not a judgment on the world but a challenge to change, he said, people should not judge the church "hastily on the basis of the crises caused by scandals past and present."

And, just as a global health crisis is a time for people to come together and help each other, the pope said, crises in the church call for gathering more intensely in prayer and resisting the temptation to increase divisions.

"A crisis is itself movement, a part of our journey," he said. "Conflict, on the other hand, is a false trail leading us astray, aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil."

Putting the church and its members into categories of conflict -- "right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist" -- makes it "fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying its true nature."

The church is "a body in continual crisis, precisely because she is alive," Pope Francis said. But it must never become "a body in conflict, with winners and losers, for in this way she would spread apprehension, become more rigid and less synodal, and impose a uniformity far removed from the richness and plurality that the Spirit has bestowed on his church."

While a crisis forces people to rally hidden resources, "conflict always tries to find 'guilty' parties to scorn and stigmatize, and 'righteous' parties to defend," the pope said. "This loss of the sense of our common belonging helps to create or consolidate certain elitist attitudes and 'cliques' that promote narrow and partial mindsets that weaken the universality of our mission."

"The church is always an earthen vessel, precious for what it contains and not for the way it may appear," Pope Francis told the Curia officials.

"These days it seems evident that the clay of which we are made is chipped, damaged and cracked," he said. The response isn't to make the fractures worse, but "to strive all the more, lest our frailty become an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel rather than a testimony to the immense love with which God, who is rich in mercy, has loved us and continues to love us."

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