03/20/2022, 11.10
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Asia in Pope Francis' new 'missionary' Curia

by Giorgio Bernardelli

The new structure of the Vatican dicasteries promulgated yesterday with the apostolic constitution "Praedicare evangelium" reflects Francis insistance on the primacy of evangelization and the need for the whole world to be represented in the Vatican. Two characteristics that he has already put in place in recent years with several Asian appointments. And that the limited duration of 5 years for the term of office for ordained officials will further favour this.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis yesterday promulgated the text of the long-awaited apostolic constitution "Praedicate evangelium" on the Roman Curia and its service to the world. The result of a long reflection conducted by a special council of cardinals, appointed by the pontiff a few months after his election, it will come into force next June 5, the Solemnity of Pentecost. The document not only redesigns the structure and organization of the Vatican's dicasteries, but also focuses on the primacy of the proclamation of the Gospel, spurring the Church to a "missionary conversion," in order to bear witness "in word and deed to the mercy that she herself has freely received.

The decision to give life to a new Dicastery for Evangelization, which the Pope himself will preside over id highly significant. The single body divided into two sections will look at both the fundamental questions of evangelization throughout the world (catechesis, inculturation, new languages for the proclamation of the Gospel, until now dealt with by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization) and the theme of first evangelization and the new particular Churches in mission areas (the areas today entrusted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples).

Among the novelties announced in  "Predicate evangelium" is then the idea that the management of the Vatican departments should no longer be the prerogative only of the pope, bishops and ordained ministers. "The reform," Francis writes, "must provide for the involvement of lay people, even in roles of governance and responsibility. Because of their family life, their knowledge of social realities and their faith that leads them to discover God's paths in the world, they can make valid contributions, especially when it comes to the promotion of the family and respect for the values of life and creation, the Gospel as a leaven of temporal realities and discernment of the signs of the times."

Greater emphasis is also placed on the "catholicity" of the Roman Curia, that is, on the need to see the concrete experiences of the Churches of the whole world truly represented within it. The Pope expressly asks that not only in the choice of cardinals and bishops at the top of the dicasteries, but also the officials - that is, their closest collaborators within the Vatican bodies - "come from the different regions of the world, so that the Roman Curia reflects the universality of the Church". In order to encourage this exchange, it is foreseen that their service in the Vatican will be for a limited period of time (usually five years), after which they will return to their dioceses of origin.

A Roman Curia with this profile directly involves Asia, a continent where the proclamation of the Gospel is a daily experience in the life of Churches that in the vast majority of its countries are a small flock in the midst of peoples who do not know Jesus. And it is no coincidence that in recent years, just as this reform was taking shape, Pope Francis looked with particular attention to the East not only in his choice of new cardinals but also for the responsibilities within the Vatican departments.

As you may recall, on December 8, 2019, he called to the leadership of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, then archbishop of Manila, a theologian esteemed worldwide and since 2015 also president of Caritas internationalis. It is easy to think that after June 5, Cardinal Tagle will be confirmed as one of the two pro-prefects who - operationally - will oversee the new Dicastery for Evangelization.

But in June 2021 Pope Francis called a second Asian prelate to the Vatican as head of a dicastery: the Korean Lazarus You Heung-sik, former bishop of Daejeon, as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. You Heung-sik himself told the faithful of his diocese that the pope - faced with his hesitancy about the new appointment - had stressed the importance of having a bishop from Asia in that role. And a few months later, on October 9, he immediately wanted him to bring his testimony to the Vatican during the opening moment of the synodal path.

Along with the two heads of department in the current Roman Curia there is then also a secretary who comes from Asia: he is Msgr. Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage, originally from the diocese of Badulla in Sri Lanka, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. A deep connoisseur of the Buddhist and Hindu worlds, he was also appointed by Pope Francis in July 2019 and is the first Asian to hold the role of secretary in the body that with the new constitution "Predicate evangelium" Pope Francis elevates to the rank of Dicastery.

Pope Francis hopes the under secretaries and officials of the individual dicasteries - as mentioned above -  in the new apostolic constitution promulgated yesterday will come from all over the world. However, he also adds two other requirements: a "congruous number of years of experience in pastoral activities" and the prospect of remaining in Rome only for a limited time. Three requirements that put together suggest a greater ease for the presence in the Roman Curia of priests, religious and laity from the experience of the dioceses of Asia.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”