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Pope Francis calls Vatican prelates to conversion to fend off ‘masked evil’

The devil, even when cast away, always returns, the pope told cardinals at the Vatican.

Pope Francis talks during an audience with Vatican employees in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Dec. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In his year-end address to Vatican department heads and cardinals based in Rome, Pope Francis warned against the “masked evil” that tempts the faithful to choose a false sense of security over renewal and reform.

“Dear brothers and sisters, denouncing evil, even the one that lurks among us, is not enough. What we must do when we encounter it is to choose conversion,” the pope told prelates at the apostolic palace at the Vatican on Thursday (Dec. 22).

To imprison the “logic of evil,” Christians must be vigilant, Francis said, because evil has a way of returning in a form “more elegant and well behaved” than before. “It always returns: The devil, cast away, returns; under a new guise, but he returns. We must be careful!”

Francis has often taken the pontiff’s customary end-of-the-year speech as a time to get Vatican clergy in line and remind them of the goals of the year ahead. This year he also included a message for peace, as conflicts continue in Ukraine and all over the world.

Peace, the pope said, must be fought for in every human heart.

“The culture of peace is not only built among peoples and nations. It starts within the heart of each one of us,” Francis said. “As we suffer from raging war and violence, we can and we must contribute to peace by attempting to weed out any root of hate and resentment toward our brothers and sisters.”

The pope cautioned that religion should never play a role in fomenting conflicts, adding that no war can be declared holy in the name of God. The Orthodox Church in Russia has been criticized for providing theological support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and in a virtual meeting earlier this year, Francis warned Patriarch Kirill of Moscow not to become “Putin’s altar boy.”

Francis has tried to avoid taking sides in the Ukraine war and urged his prelates to work toward reconciliation and peace. “If it’s true that we want for the clamor of war to end, leaving way for peace, then everyone start with ourselves,” he told his audience.

The pope led off his talk by urging clergy to “return to what is essential in our life,” which, he said, is not limited to passing up wealth. Only by exercising gratitude for what we have, Francis continues, will a true path toward conversion be set forward.

The pontiff said that the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, aimed at reconciling the Catholic Church with the demands of modernity, is a reminder that the church is called “to better understand the gospel, to make it current, alive, active in this historical time.”

The conversion continues today, he said, with the Synod on the Synodality, a massive, yearslong consultation of lay and religious Catholics on the structural and spiritual challenges facing the church. “The current reflection on synodality in the church is born precisely from the conviction that the path toward understanding Christ’s message never ends and continues to provoke us,” Francis said.

To keep the faith, he added, “means keeping Christ’s message alive and not imprisoning it.”

Closed behind the Vatican’s high walls and inside curial offices, Catholic prelates must be especially guarded, the pope said. “We might fall into the temptation of thinking we are safe, we are better, we no longer need to convert,” he said.

“We are in more danger than anyone else, because we are threatened by the ‘polite devil,’ who comes without making any noise but bearing flowers,” he added.

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