Vatican City — Diversity in the Catholic Church springs from its reality as a communion of different people with different gifts, and a collegial approach to facing challenges ensures that those differences strengthen communion rather than harm it, Pope Francis told members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"On all levels of church life, a correct synodality must be promoted," the pope said Jan. 29, referring to a process of discernment and decision making based on listening with respect to differing opinions and experiences and discussing them in an atmosphere of prayer.
The members of the doctrinal congregation, which is charged with promoting and defending authentic Catholic teaching and practices, were holding their annual plenary meeting at the Vatican.
Pope Francis used his audience as an opportunity to thank the theologians and other specialists who collaborate with the staff and cardinal members of the congregation, and he encouraged the congregation "to continue and intensify collaboration" with bishops' conferences and individual bishops around the world.
The congregation can make an important contribution "to the renewal of church life" through its ongoing study of "the complementarity of hierarchical and charismatic gifts," the pope said. Pope Francis has spoken often of the importance of recognizing the gifts of the church's order and structure -- the hierarchy -- while not being frightened by new gifts -- the charismatic -- given by the Holy Spirit, often to church members who not ordained.
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"According to the logic of unity in legitimate diversity -- the logic that characterizes every authentic form of communion in the people of God -- the hierarchical and charismatic gifts must collaborate harmoniously for the good of the church and the world," the pope said.
"If recognized and welcomed with humility," he said, the diversity of God's gifts helps the church renew itself in every age.
"Here one can clearly see how the synodal dynamic, if correctly understood, is born of communion and leads to a communion that is more effective, deeper and broader in the service of the life and mission of the people of God," he said.
The doctrinal congregation's "ultimate foundation and its appropriate justification," the pope said, lies in the fact that while God himself is a mystery, his mercy took concrete form in Jesus Christ, who became man for the salvation of humanity.
"The Christian faith, in fact, is not only knowledge to be committed to memory," he said, "but truth to be lived in love. Therefore, along with the doctrine of the faith, it is also necessary to safeguard the integrity of conduct, particularly in the most delicate areas of life."
Faith in Christ "implies both an act of reason and a moral response to his gift," the pope said, which is why the doctrinal congregation also handles cases involving priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Pope Francis thanked the congregation for "your commitment and the responsibility you exercise" in dealing with the cases.
Faith reflected in deeds is also part of the Year of Mercy, he said. Catholics need to be aware that at the end of their lives "we will be asked if we gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and, equally, we will be asked if we helped people leave behind their doubts, if we worked to welcome sinners, admonishing and correcting them, and if we were able to fight ignorance, especially regarding the Christian faith and living a good life."
The tasks people will be judged on are known as "the corporal and spiritual works of mercy," he said. "They are not a devotion," but "concretely how Christians carry on the spirit of mercy."