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Pope Francis gives Christmas message of service

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A file image of Pope Francis with UNHCR Nansen Refugee Laureate Sister Angélique in October.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis put the ideals of professionalism, service and holiness to the fore Saturday in his first Christmas message to the Curia, the Roman Catholic Church’s governing body.

The Roman Curia, which includes Vatican staff, priests and cardinals, gathered in the ornate Clementine Hall. The pope praised those who have worked in the Vatican for “many years with immense dedication, hidden from the eyes of the world.”

The church needs “people who work with competence, precision and self sacrifice in the fulfillment of their daily duties,” he said.

Without professionalism, Francis warned, “there is a slow drift downwards towards mediocrity” and “dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information” that fail to inspire.

Without an attitude of service to bishops and churches worldwide, he said, “the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.”

Holiness encompasses an openness to God, prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in relationships with fellow workers, Francis said.

“It also means apostleship, discreet and faithful pastoral service, zealously carried out in direct contact with God’s people. For priests, this is indispensable,” he said.

He also urged the Curia to avoid indulging in gossip, saying: “Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.”

Francis has already taken a number of steps to try to reform the Vatican’s administration in the nine months since he was elected to the papacy.

CNN’s Vatican reporter John Allen, also a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said Saturday’s speech was brief but set out some core principles.

“He said very clearly he wants a Vatican that is focused on service, rather than power,” Allen said.

In July, the pope set up an expert committee to recommend reforms to the economic and administrative structures of the Holy See. He has also ordered more scrutiny of the Vatican bank, which has been plagued by financial scandals for years.

Earlier this month, he announced the creation of a commission to prevent the abuse of minors and to support victims of abuse.

The Catholic Church has faced calls for reform in the wake of scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by priests and allegations of corruption.

Since taking charge, Francis has also shifted the tone of the church toward a focus on service, compassion and helping the poor and addressed controversial issues such as homosexuality and the role of women in the church.

At his final general audience of 2013 in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, the pope spoke about the birth of Jesus and the importance of humility.

“It is an ugly thing,” he said, “when you see a Christian who doesn’t want to humble himself, who doesn’t want to serve, a Christian who struts about everywhere: it’s ugly, eh? That is not a Christian: that’s a pagan!”

In a measure of the impact he’s already had as pontiff, Francis was named as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” this month.

The Vatican welcomed Time’s selection, while making it clear the man so widely recognized for his own humility didn’t seek the award and didn’t want its light to shine on him but on the mission of the church.

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