Click HERE to download the original photo

The centenary celebrations were to be held at Manzini. We felt it was a central place for everyone. At the same time we were very much aware that "everything started at Mbabane". The first missionaries crossed into Swaziland from South Africa and went to Mbabane where some days after their arrival, they got the place where today is "Mater Dolorosa".

The centenary committee felt it would be good if somehow we could acknowledge the centenary of our presence at Mbabane. We therefore planned a visit of all the bishops for Saturday afternoon.

None of the bishops chose to stay home!

We were welcomed by the Parish Council and, before going into the church for a short prayer, we took a photograph outside the church around the centenary banner.

Our prayer started with the hymn "God's Spirit is in my heart" after which archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo OMI (Bloemfontein) introduced all the bishops present.

The biblical text, in the same spirit of the hymn reminded us of the missionary mandate: "Go and make disciples of all nations... I am with you always" (Mt 28: 16 - 20).

We prayed together:

Lord, you who sent your apostles to go
and proclaim the Gospel to the whole world
and guided the missionaries into your vineyard in Swaziland,

we ask you to continue guiding your pilgrim and missionary Church
in proclaiming your Gospel to everyone.

Through the Holy Spirit which animated the apostles
in the beginning of your Holy Church,

guide it today and forever
so that your loving message 
reaches the ears of the poor and the rich
and so they become docile to your Holy Spirit
so to fulfil the Kingdom of God in your love.

Amen.

Click HERE to download the original file

"The SACBC plenary session is over" announced Archbishop Stephen Brislin (president of the SACBC) at midmorning. 

Yesterday we all went to the Cathedral for a photo that will remember the celebration of the first plenary session in history held in Swaziland. We got all the bishops (or... nearly all of them - two were missing). 

Arriving in the Cathedral, bishops took time to pray at the tombs of Bishops Barneschi OSM, Zwane and Ndlovu OSM and Bishop Casalini OSM who died in Italy.

From the very first day the bishops underlined the joyful spirit they found in the diocese and they constantly admired the capacity the diocese had to organise so many events in one week: the plenary session of the bishops (which lasted a week), the launching of the book on HIV/Aids on Saturday, the centenary celebration and installation of a new bishop on Sunday. 

I attributed this to the leadership of Bishop Ndlovu OSM who clearly involved everyone in the preparation and celebration of diocesan events.

This plenary session had a different style to the ones we have in South Africa as bishops were staying in three different places, they had to walk in the morning for Mass to our "Little Flower" church, walk to the bishop's house for the meals and to the "Caritas Hall" for the meetings. They found it very good and deeply enjoyed the healthy food (lots of fruit in the morning!) provided.

Every bishop left today deeply grateful to the Swazi people.

Homily at the Centenary Celebration
of the arrival of the first Catholic Missionaries in Swaziland

Many many many years' ago (I was a seminarian) a priest said in his homily: “Only fools believe in coincidence”. We do not believe in “concidences”. We believe in God's hand in our lives at work.
The readings we read today were not chosen by any of us. These are the readings that every single Catholic is reading today all over the world.
I like to follow the readings of the day as much as possible and today's... no, there is no coincidence! Today's readings show God's hand and love among among us.
Think about it:
  • We see Jesus in Matthew's Gospel starting his ministry of preaching the good news, teaching and healing
and we are here to remember and celebrating the beginning of this same ministry in the Kingdom of Swaziland by the first Catholic priests who arrived one hundred years' ago;
  • We see Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, James and John, to follow him and to be made fishers of men and women
we too remember by name those who following Jesus were made fishers of men and women: Fr Gratl and Fr Mayer, Fr Bellezze and Br Obeleitner
  • We see Jesus going around the whole of Galilee touching everyone's lives and we remember and celebrate that those missionaries and those who followed them went from Mbabane to Mzimpofu, from Bulandzeni to Hluthi, Piggs Peak, Siteki...
  • Remembering the first ones, we want to thank God for all those who followed: more Servites, Benedictine Sisters, Mantellate Sisters, Dominican of Oakford, Cabra, Montebello, Salesians, Cabrini Sisters, the Swazi Servite Sisters Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help... with all the diocesan priests who, since 1964 have been serving our communities.
Mission is not just about priests and sisters. Like Jesus in the Gospel, the first missionaries called some to walk with them, to be prepared, to be sent... It was lovely to visit last year St Amedeus, an outstation in Piggs Peak and see there the photo of one of the catechists, a pillar of that community. The few priests and sisters that served the country at the beginning could not have achieved so much without them!

Click HERE to download the full text



Saturday evening was the launching of the book: "Catholic Responses to AIDS in Southern Africa". This book is a publication of the SACBC Aids office and St Joseph's Theological Institute. It gathers the papers presented a year at a theological conference celebrated on the 30 years of HIV/Aids.

"The Catholic Church in Southern Africa has been one of the principal players in the response to this crisis. From a relatively slow beginning in the 1980s it had become a major provider of health care and information on HIV prevention by the early 21st century"

The launching was done at the Bishop's house in Manzini as all the bishops are celebrating here their plenary session. Later on it will be launched in the Archdioceses of South Africa.

Being the liaison bishop of the AIDS office and the bishop of Manzini, I was asked to share my pastoral experience in the fight against this pandemic.

I was followed by Fr Stuart Bate OMI who coordinated the theological conference last year and edited this book.

We were very grateful for the presence of Mr Khanya Mabuza, executive director of the National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA) who also addressed us sharing his own experience and the present situation on the country regarding HIV/Aids.

I have uploaded a couple of files with what I had prepared with what was, somehow, my address.

Address by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki Declaration of Partnership Against Aids - Click HERE 
My address - Click HERE

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference meets twice a year in January (in Pretoria) and July/August (in Mariannhill). For the first time in history, this year we are meeting in Manzini (Swaziland). We are 29 bishops coming from three countries (Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland) and 28 dioceses.

I am not sure how much it is known about what happens during our plenary sessions. We always start at 7 am with the celebration of the Mass but it is not unusual to find the bishops already in church before 6.30 for personal prayer. 

Each one of the Metropolitan areas (Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria) is in charge of the liturgy of the day.

Soon after breakfast we gather for the "business session". A timetable and the list of topics is always sent well in advance together with material that needs to be read before the meeting.

This working session starts at 9 am and finishes around 1 pm when we break for lunch. We continue in the afternoon from 3 pm to 6 pm.

* * *
The plenary opens with Archbishop Brislin's address as president of the SACBC. This is part of his address which already sets the tone of the meeting:

"We welcome to the Conference Bishop Xavier Munyongani of Gweru, representing  the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference. We also welcome Bishop Hubert Bucher, bishop-emeritus of Bethlehem and thank him for the morning of reflection which he held. We also welcome Fr Oskar Wermter , so-ordinator of the Pastoral Department of IMBISA. Coming later during the plenary will be Fr Richard Menatsi, director of IMBISA, Msgr Stephen Rossetti, Chief Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Gideon Pogrund, and Mr John Bergin of the Bible Society. Bishop Mvemve, emeritus bishop of Klerksdorp, will join us on Sunday.

Msgr Kevin Randall, counsellor of the Nuncio, will be present and will address us. The Nuncio is unwell and is receiving medical treatment in Italy. How long that treatment will take and when he will return is uncertain.

On behalf of all I thank Bishop Jose Luis Ponce de Leon and the Church of Swaziland for the invitation to meet here and for their hospitality – it is good to be here. The opening liturgy of this Conference, held last night at the Cathedral, was vibrant and prayerful. The people of Swaziland have certainly made us feel at home. We also congratulate the clergy, religious and laity of this country on the occasion of the centenary celebration of the establishment of the Catholic Church. We anticipate Sunday's celebration with eagerness.

By the same token we congratulate Bishop Ponce de Leon on his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Manzini – and for his appointment as apostolic administrator of Ingwavuma. He is well used to both dioceses by now but hopefully the reversal of roles will make his task somewhat easier.

We also congratulate Bishop Sithembele Sipuka on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of priesthood.

The death of Nelson Mandela became a “1994 and 2010” moment in the way in which it united people of this country in mourning for him. On behalf of the SACBC I wish to once again offer our condolences to Mme Graca Machel, his family, the government and the country. Numerous television channels played images and documentaries recalling the past. Seeing the conditions in South Africa in the 1980's and early 1990's was a reminder of how far we have come as a country and how much we have to be grateful for. Recalling the ideals of Nelson Mandela, particularly of inclusivity, reconciliation and democracy based on equality, not only makes us grateful for the role he played in setting the country on that course, but also has helped us realise to what extent we have failed to meet those ideals. Most especially unemployment, the massive gulf between rich and poor, underlying and overt violence, service delivery crises, the perceived threats to democratic institutions make us realise that there is no room for complacency. Some of these issues will be taken up in the pastoral letter on the occasion of 20 years of democracy. These major issues which affect South Africa also affect Botswana and Swaziland to a greater or lesser degree."



Welcoming words by Mr. Masilela, the Permanent Secretary
of the Ministry of Home Affairs


Your Eminence
Your Excellency
Your Graces
Your Lordships 
Members of the Clergy
Members of the various Religious Congregations
Members of the Laity 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

First and foremost, I wish to mention that it is fitting and proper that as a Ministry of Home Affairs we welcome you to the Kingdom of Swaziland for two reasons:  Religious matters fall within the ambit of the Ministry of Home Affairs and as a Ministry of Home Affairs we feel qualified to say: ‘’Please feel at Home’’

As you venture into plenary discussions on issues of social development, refugees, children, HIV/AIDS and Food Security amongst other issues within the Southern Africa Catholic Bishop’s Episcopal Conference, we invoke in advance, God’s inspiration to guide your deliberations since the recommendations that will emanate from your interrogation of these issues, shall lead to more meaningful and productive lives for the voiceless who rely on your collective voice for the betterment of their lives.

I am aware that your assembly is a precursor to two most important events scheduled for this coming weekend; the centenary celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church in Swaziland and the Installation of His Lordship Bishop Jose Luis Ponce de Leon as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Swaziland. 

Most specifically, Saturday marks the launch of the book ‘’Catholic Responses to HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa’’. As a Government, no words can adequately express our heartfelt gratitude at this important development as it complements and enhances Government’s initiatives to combat the HIV/ AIDS pandemic.

It only remains for me to wish you well in your deliberations and the rest of the celebrations during what has and continues to be one of the busiest weeks of the Catholic Church in Swaziland.

Thank You and God bless us all.

I guess someone might wondering. The title says "welcoming the Bishops" and the photo above does not seem to have any! 

Bishops started arriving yesterday but before them, on Monday afternoon, the diocese of Manzini welcomed the team that is behind the organisation of the plenary session and the work of the "Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference" (SACBC) as a body.

From left: Letticia, Sr Hermenegild (Secretary General), Clifford and Fr Grant (Assistant Secretary General). 

They are the ones who prepare all the material that is needed before and during the meeting of the bishops. 

On Tuesday morning they became familiar with logistics in Swaziland (they will have to collect some bishops at the airport), set up their offices and checked that all the rooms were ready.

I believe it is the first time in history that a plenary session of the SACBC is held in Swaziland. We are 29 bishops from Botswana (2 bishops), South Africa (26 bishops) and Swaziland (1 bishop).

Being so used to prepare the meetings, they are able to point out quickly things that might be missing. That is why they arrived one day earlier and helped us make sure everything is ready.

They are hardly seen as normally we, the bishops, become the centre of attention. 

Welcome to Swaziland!

Next Sunday we will be launching a publication
prepared by the people of the Diocese of Manzini.
This is my foreword.

“Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people”
(Pope Francis)

One hundred years' ago, on 27 January 1914, the first Catholic missionaries arrived in Swaziland. They were members of the Order of Servants of Mary. They had been sent, like the first apostles, to share the joy of the Gospel. In their hearts they had a deep passion for Jesus and for his people.

Seeing our Church today and remembering our beginnings one cannot but go back to so many similar images in the Gospel:
  • like the one of “a mustard seed which, at the time of its sowing, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth. Yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade’” (Mark 4:31-32) or
  • the five loaves and the two fish that al- lowed thousand of people to eat as much as they wanted (Mark 6:34-44)
  • but, most of all, that “the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20) has shown His presence and guidance.

The celebration of these first hundred years has been, to each one of us, an opportunity to remem- ber with joy so many moments of this journey. This simple book is just a very small picture of what we are celebrating.

At the same time it has been a reminder that

"it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all:
to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear.
The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded" 
(Evangelium Gaudium 23)

Remembering and celebrating we renew our commitment to be Good News to all in every part of our country and all over the world.

I always remember when I was appointed bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Ingwavuma in 2008. I was asked to prepare my coat-of-arms. I honestly thought there was no need. A bishop friend of mine in another country told me he had never done it. 

I was living in Rome at that time and the vicar general of the Vicariate of Ingwavuma asked me to send him my coat-of-arms. I told him I was not planning to have it but he insisted I should. Thank God I did it because, much later I must say, I realised he was right. 

I started wondering how to do it. If I was going to have it, it must be something I would identify with. Someone I do not know wrote an email offering to help me. 

In the meantime I contacted a bishop I knew in South Africa and asked him who had done his (I liked his). He told me it was done by a lay friend in Europe. That triggered the idea... I could ask the lay people I was working with in Italy. We could do it together

Thank to the emails, different drafts were produced. I used to print them and put them on the way so that every missionary passing in my office would also make comments. Once it was ready, I checked it with the Vicariate of Ingwavuma and got their approval. 

In the last four and a half years, the coat-of-arms became part of the uniforms of some of the groups in the Vicariate. It became part of their identity.

Having been appointed bishop of the diocese of Manzini, I suddenly felt the coat-of-arms would had to be modified. The motto had been written in Zulu while Siswati is the language spoken in Swaziland. The coat-of-arms had to reflect the new diocese (It is also true that, as far as I know, these things are hardly ever modified). 

Back then to the artist in Rome: Mauro Monti, who had designed the previous one. He was more than happy to work on it again. 

The basic symbols remained: the raising sun, the treasure chest, the sandals, the cross and the star... The shape has been slightly changed and colours and elements of the Swazi flag have been incorporated.

Once we felt it was done, I loaded it on "WhatsApp" to pr
esent it to a group of Catholics in the diocese of Manzini. They all gave their approval. We then knew there was no need to make any more changes!


(Swaziland's flag, below)




For most of last year, we thought to have the main celebration at "Our Lady of Assumption", the Cathedral of the Diocese of Manzini. 

Then, we realised that there was great excitement regarding the celebration and the venue would not be big enough. We therefore decided to move it to the Bosco Youth Centre, not far from the Cathedral.

Visiting the place, we started talking how to decorate it. It was then that we came with an original idea: we asked each parish and sodality to bring a banner that would show their joy at the celebration. It had to be "home made". 

Last Saturday, two of the parishes surprised us by bringing their, one week before the deadline: St Mary's - Lobamba (above) and St Constantine - Tjaneni (below). 

St Mary's is one of the very first parishes in Swaziland (1927) and included the list of outstations under that parish while St Constantine (born in 1968) reminded us of the production of sugar cane in the area. 

We are looking forward to the rest of the banners!





In two weeks' time the diocese of Manzini will be celebrating the arrival of the first Catholic Missionaries. They were members of the Order of the Servants of Mary (OSM). On 27 January 1914 they crossed the border from South Africa and travelled to Mbabane. A few days' later they bought a plot where the Mater Dolorosa parish and school would be built.

The main celebration is planned for Sunday 26 January at 10.00 at the Bosco Youth Centre (Manzini, Swaziland).

It is a big event which starts with the arrival of all the Bishops members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC): 28 dioceses in three countries (Botswana, South Africa & Swaziland). For the first time in history the plenary session of the Bishops will be celebrated in Swaziland. They will remain in the country for one full week. This is the way the bishops decided to honour the event

The centenary committee now meets every Saturday to make sure everything will be ready for the celebration. Meetings are long and full of details. We want to make sure that we all know what still needs to be done, who is going to do it and... when! 

A year ago, when we started our meetings, we decided to entrust each area to a parish. This would make it easier for the people to meet without having to travel all over the country. 

We are dealing not only with the liturgy of the day but also with the "entertainment" after the Mass, making sure there is enough food for everyone, accommodation for visitors, a special publication to which every parish and religious community has contributed and... of course, finances!

The media in the country has been approached and they keep on showing interest and support on this event. Articles are appearing weekly on one of the national newspapers.



























"IZwi laba yinyama" - "The Word became flesh"
is the motto I chose when I was appointed bishop.
Yesterday Pope Francis spoke about this passage at the Angelus.

Dear brothers and sisters!

This Sunday’s liturgy re-proposes to us, in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, the deepest meaning of Jesus’ birth. He is the Word of God who became man and pitched his “tent,” his dwelling, among men. The Evangelist writes: “The Word became flesh and came to live among us” (John 1:14). In these words, which never cease to astound us, is the whole of Christianity! God became mortal, fragile like us, he shared our human condition, except for sin, but took our sins upon himself as if they were his own. He entered into our history, he fully became God-with-us! Jesus’ birth, then, shows us that God wanted to unite himself to every man and woman, to each one of us, to communicate his life and his joy.

So, God is God with us, God who loves us, God who walks with us. This is the message of Christmas: the Word became flesh. Thus, Christmas reveals God’s immense love for humanity. From here stems the enthusiasm, the hope of Christians, who in our poverty know that we are loved, visited and accompanied by God; and we look at the world and at history as the place in which to walk together with him and with each other, toward the new heaven and the new earth. With the birth of Jesus a new promise is born, a new world is born, but also a world that can always be renewed. God is always present to raise up new men, to purify the world from the sin that makes it old, from the sin that corrupts it. As much as human history and our own personal history can be marked by difficulties and weaknesses, faith in the Incarnation tells us that God is solidary with man and his history. This closeness of God to man, to every man, and to each of us, is a gift that never fades away! He is with us! He is God with us! This is the good news of Christmas: the divine light, which flooded the hearts of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and guided the steps of the shepherds and the magi, also shines for us today.

In the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God there is also an aspect connected to human freedom, to the freedom of each one of us. In fact, the Word of God pitched his tent among us, sinners and needful of mercy. And we must all make haste to receive the grace that he offers us. But, St. John’s Gospel continues, “his own did not welcome him” (1:11). We too often reject him, we prefer to remain closed up in our errors and the anxiety of our sins. But Jesus does not desist and does not cease to offer himself and his grace that save us! Jesus is patient, Jesus knows how to wait, he always waits for us. This is a message of hope, a message of salvation, ancient and ever new. And we are called to bear witness with joy to this message of the Gospel of life, the Gospel of light, of hope and love, because this is Jesus’ message: life, light, hope, love.

May Mary, the Mother of God and our tender Mother, sustain us always so that we remain faithful to the Christian vocation and make the justice and peace that we desire at beginning of this new year a reality.


"Svegliate il mondo" - Colloquio di Papa Francesco con i Superiori Generali
http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/SVEGLIATE_IL_MONDO.pdf

"Wake up the world" - Conversation with Pope Francis about the Religious life 
http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/Wake_up_the_world.pdf

"Despierten al mundo" - Diálogo del Papa Francisco sobre la Vida Religiosa
http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/Despierten_al_mundo.pdf


(ACI/EWTN Noticias).- Esta tarde, la revista de la Compañía de Jesús, La Civiltà Cattolica, publicó la conversación que el Papa Francisco tuvo con la Unión de Superiores Generales el 29 de noviembre de 2013, un intenso diálogo en el que planteó los lineamientos de la formación de los religiosos en el mundo.


En esa ocasión, el Papa Francisco pidió a la Unión de Superiores Generales que la formación de los religiosos esté enfocada en el acompañamiento del Pueblo de Dios, pues se necesitan “testigos de la resurrección de Jesús” y no “administradores”, pues “es necesario siempre pensar en los fieles”.



El P. Antonio Spadaro, director de La Civiltà Cattolica, registró el diálogo en 15 páginas “haciendo una crónica comentada del encuentro, también a la luz del reciente magisterio de Papa Bergoglio”, informó este viernes Radio Vaticana.



Este extenso diálogo ha sido difundido este viernes por la revista de la Compañía de Jesús en inglés, italiano y español y puede ser descargado en



"Es necesario formar el corazón, de otro modo formamos pequeños monstruos. Y después estos pequeños monstruos forman al Pueblo de Dios. Esto me hace poner la 'piel de gallina'", fue uno de los pasajes de la conversación entre el Papa Francisco y la Unión de Superiores Generales.



Francisco también indicó a los superiores que los pilares de la formación son el aspecto espiritual, intelectual, comunitario y apostólico. “El fantasma que se debe combatir es la imagen de la vida religiosa entendida como refugio y consuelo ante un mundo ‘externo’ difícil y complejo. Los cuatro pilares deben interactuar desde el primer día de ingreso al noviciado, y no deben ser estructurados en secuencial. Debe haber una interacción”, explicó.



Entre los tantos temas tratados también está el ser profetas en nuestro mundo, la fraternidad, la denuncia de la "trata de novicias" y de actitudes de hipocresía y fundamentalismo, el elogio de las grandes decisiones deBenedicto XVI al afrontar los casos de abuso, la importancia de los carismas, los desafíos más urgentes, la relación entre los religiosos y los obispos, la necesidad de la ternura, de saber "acariciar los conflictos", es de un impacto capaz de despertar nuestro mundo entorpecido.



El artículo completo de La Civiltà Cattolica puede descargarse en PDF enhttp://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/Despierten_al_mundo.pdf

FRATERNITY, THE FOUNDATION AND PATHWAY TO PEACE

1. In this, my first Message for the World Day of Peace, I wish to offer to everyone, individuals and peoples, my best wishes for a life filled with joy and hope. In the heart of every man and woman is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.

Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace. We should remember that fraternity is generally first learned in the family, thanks above all to the responsible and complementary roles of each of its members, particularly the father and the mother. The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it.

The ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today’s world makes us powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of the nations. In the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another. But this vocation is still frequently denied and ignored in a world marked by a "globalization of indifference" which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves.

In many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. The tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example of this. Alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses.

Globalization, as Benedict XVI pointed out, makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers.1 The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that "throw away" mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered "useless". In this way human coexistence increasingly tends to resemble a mere do ut des which is both pragmatic and selfish.

At the same time, it appears clear that contemporary ethical systems remain incapable of producing authentic bonds of fraternity, since a fraternity devoid of reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation is unable to endure.2 True brotherhood among people presupposes and demands a transcendent Fatherhood. Based on the recognition of this fatherhood, human fraternity is consolidated: each person becomes a "neighbour" who cares for others.

"Where is your brother?" (Gen 4:9)

2. To understand more fully this human vocation to fraternity, to recognize more clearly the obstacles standing in the way of its realization and to identify ways of overcoming them, it is of primary importance to let oneself be led by knowledge of God’s plan, which is presented in an eminent way in sacred Scripture.

According to the biblical account of creation, all people are descended from common parents, Adam and Eve, the couple created by God in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26), to whom Cain and Abel were born. In the story of this first family, we see the origins of society and the evolution of relations between individuals and peoples.

Abel is a shepherd, Cain is a farmer. Their profound identity and their vocation is to be brothers, albeit in the diversity of their activity and culture, their way of relating to God and to creation. Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers. Their story (cf. Gen 4:1-16) brings out the difficult task to which all men and women are called, to live as one, each taking care of the other. Cain, incapable of accepting God’s preference for Abel who had offered him the best of his flock – "The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering he had no regard" (Gen 4:4-5) – killed Abel out of jealousy. In this way, he refused to regard Abel as a brother, to relate to him rightly, to live in the presence of God by assuming his responsibility to care for and to protect others. By asking him "Where is your brother?", God holds Cain accountable for what he has done. He answers: "I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?" (Gen 4:9). Then, the Book of Genesis tells us, "Cain went away from the presence of the Lord" (4:16).

We need to ask ourselves what were the real reasons which led Cain to disregard the bond of fraternity and, at the same time, the bond of reciprocity and fellowship which joined him to his brother Abel. God himself condemns and reproves Cain’s collusion with evil: "sin is crouching at your door" (Gen 4:7). But Cain refuses to turn against evil and decides instead to raise his "hand against his brother Abel" (Gen 4:8), thus scorning God’s plan. In this way, he thwarts his primordial calling to be a child of God and to live in fraternity.

The story of Cain and Abel teaches that we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling. This is witnessed by our daily acts of selfishness, which are at the root of so many wars and so much injustice: many men and women die at the hands of their brothers and sisters who are incapable of seeing themselves as such, that is, as beings made for reciprocity, for communion and self-giving.

"And you will all be brothers" (Mt 23:8)

3. The question naturally arises: Can the men and women of this world ever fully respond to the longing for fraternity placed within them by God the Father? Will they ever manage by their power alone to overcome indifference, egoism and hatred, and to accept the legitimate differences typical of brothers and sisters?

By paraphrasing his words, we can summarize the answer given by the Lord Jesus: "For you have only one Father, who is God, and you are all brothers and sisters" (cf. Mt 23:8-9). The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman (cf. Mt 6:25-30). It is a fatherhood, then, which effectively generates fraternity, because the love of God, once welcomed, becomes the most formidable means of transforming our lives and relationships with others, opening us to solidarity and to genuine sharing.

In a particular way, human fraternity is regenerated in and by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. The Cross is the definitive foundational locus of that fraternity which human beings are not capable of generating themselves. Jesus Christ, who assumed human nature in order to redeem it, loving the Father unto death on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), has through his resurrection made of us a new humanity, in full communion with the will of God, with his plan, which includes the full realization of our vocation to fraternity.

From the beginning, Jesus takes up the plan of the Father, acknowledging its primacy over all else. But Christ, with his abandonment to death for love of the Father, becomes the definitive and new principle of us all; we are called to regard ourselves in him as brothers as sisters, inasmuch as we are children of the same Father. He himself is the Covenant; in his person we are reconciled with God and with one another as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ death on the Cross also brings an end to the separation between peoples, between the people of the Covenant and the people of the Gentiles, who were bereft of hope until that moment, since they were not party to the pacts of the Promise. As we read in the Letter to the Ephesians, Jesus Christ is the one who reconciles all people in himself. He is peace, for he made one people out of the two, breaking down the wall of separation which divided them, that is, the hostility between them. He created in himself one people, one new man, one new humanity (cf. 2:14-16).

All who accept the life of Christ and live in him acknowledge God as Father and give themselves completely to him, loving him above all things. The reconciled person sees in God the Father of all, and, as a consequence, is spurred on to live a life of fraternity open to all. In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father, and, because they are grafted to Christ, sons and daughters in the Son, there are no "disposable lives". All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God. All have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, who died on the Cross and rose for all. This is the reason why no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters.

Fraternity, the foundation and pathway to peace

4. This being said, it is easy to realize that fraternity is the foundation and pathway of peace. The social encyclicals written by my predecessors can be very helpful in this regard. It would be sufficient to draw on the definitions of peace found in the encyclicalsPopulorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis by John Paul II. From the first we learn that the integral development of peoples is the new name of peace.3 From the second, we conclude that peace is an opus solidaritatis.4

Paul VI stated that not only individuals but nations too must encounter one another in a spirit of fraternity. As he says: "In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this sacred communion, we must also… work together to build the common future of the human race".5 In the first place, this duty falls to those who are most privileged. Their obligations are rooted in human and supernatural fraternity and are manifested in three ways: the duty of solidarity, which requires the richer nations to assist the less developed; the duty of social justice, which requires the realignment of relationships between stronger and weaker peoples in terms of greater fairness; and the duty of universal charity, which entails the promotion of a more humane world for all, a world in which each has something to give and to receive, without the progress of the one constituting an obstacle to the development of the other.6

If, then, we consider peace as opus solidaritatis, we cannot fail to acknowledge that fraternity is its principal foundation. Peace, John Paul II affirmed, is an indivisible good. Either it is the good of all or it is the good of none. It can be truly attained and enjoyed, as the highest quality of life and a more human and sustainable development, only if all are guided by solidarity as "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good".7 This means not being guided by a "desire for profit" or a "thirst for power". What is needed is the willingness to "lose ourselves" for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to "serve them" instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. "The ‘other’ – whether a person, people or nation – [is to be seen] not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbour’, a ‘helper’".8

Christian solidarity presumes that our neighbour is loved not only as "a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but as the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit",9 as another brother or sister. As John Paul II noted: "At that point, awareness of the common fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of all in Christ – ‘children in the Son’ – and of the presence and life-giving action of the Holy Spirit, will bring to our vision of the world a new criterion for interpreting it",10 for changing it.

Fraternity, a prerequisite for fighting poverty

5. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, my predecessor reminded the world how the lack of fraternity between peoples and men and women is a significant cause of poverty.11 In many societies, we are experiencing a profound poverty of relationships as a result of the lack of solid family and community relationships. We are concerned by the various types of hardship, marginalization, isolation and various forms of pathological dependencies which we see increasing. This kind of poverty can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life.

Moreover, if on the one hand we are seeing a reduction in absolute poverty, on the other hand we cannot fail to recognize that there is a serious rise in relative poverty, that is, instances of inequality between people and groups who live together in particular regions or in a determined historical-cultural context. In this sense, effective policies are needed to promote the principle offraternity, securing for people – who are equal in dignity and in fundamental rights – access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology so that every person has the opportunity to express and realize his or her life project and can develop fully as a person.

One also sees the need for policies which can lighten an excessive imbalance between incomes. We must not forget the Church’s teaching on the so-called social mortgage, which holds that although it is lawful, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, and indeed necessary "that people have ownership of goods",12 insofar as their use is concerned, "they possess them as not just their own, but common to others as well, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as themselves".13

Finally, there is yet another form of promoting fraternity – and thus defeating poverty – which must be at the basis of all the others. It is the detachment of those who choose to live a sober and essential lifestyle, of those who, by sharing their own wealth, thus manage to experience fraternal communion with others. This is fundamental for following Jesus Christ and being truly Christian. It is not only the case of consecrated persons who profess the vow of poverty, but also of the many families and responsible citizens who firmly believe that it is their fraternal relationship with their neighbours which constitutes their most precious good.

The rediscovery of fraternity in the economy

6. The grave financial and economic crises of the present time – which find their origin in the progressive distancing of man from God and from his neighbour, in the greedy pursuit of material goods on the one hand, and in the impoverishment of interpersonal and community relations on the other – have pushed man to seek satisfaction, happiness and security in consumption and earnings out of all proportion to the principles of a sound economy. In 1979 John Paul II had called attention to "a real perceptible danger that, while man’s dominion over the world of things is making enormous advances, he should lose the essential threads of his dominion and in various ways let his humanity be subjected to the world and become himself something subject to manipulation in many ways – even if the manipulation is often not perceptible directly – through the whole of the organization of community life, through the production system and through pressure from the means of social communication."14

The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles. Today’s crisis, even with its serious implications for people’s lives, can also provide us with a fruitful opportunity to rediscover the virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and strength. These virtues can help us to overcome difficult moments and to recover the fraternal bonds which join us one to another, with deep confidence that human beings need and are capable of something greater than maximizing their individual interest. Above all, these virtues are necessary for building and preserving a society in accord with human dignity.

Fraternity extinguishes war

7. In the past year, many of our brothers and sisters have continued to endure the destructive experience of war, which constitutes a grave and deep wound inflicted on fraternity.

Many conflicts are taking place amid general indifference. To all those who live in lands where weapons impose terror and destruction, I assure you of my personal closeness and that of the whole Church, whose mission is to bring Christ’s love to the defenceless victims of forgotten wars through her prayers for peace, her service to the wounded, the starving, refugees, the displaced and all those who live in fear. The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights.15

For this reason, I appeal forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you! "From this standpoint, it is clear that, for the world’s peoples, armed conflicts are always a deliberate negation of international harmony, and create profound divisions and deep wounds which require many years to heal. Wars are a concrete refusal to pursue the great economic and social goals that the international community has set itself".16

Nevertheless, as long as so great a quantity of arms are in circulation as at present, new pretexts can always be found for initiating hostilities. For this reason, I make my own the appeal of my predecessors for the non-proliferation of arms and for disarmament of all parties, beginning with nuclear and chemical weapons disarmament.

We cannot however fail to observe that international agreements and national laws – while necessary and greatly to be desired – are not of themselves sufficient to protect humanity from the risk of armed conflict. A conversion of hearts is needed which would permit everyone to recognize in the other a brother or sister to care for, and to work together with, in building a fulfilling life for all. This is the spirit which inspires many initiatives of civil society, including religious organizations, to promote peace. I express my hope that the daily commitment of all will continue to bear fruit and that there will be an effective application in international law of the right to peace, as a fundamental human right and a necessary prerequisite for every other right.

Corruption and organized crime threaten fraternity

8. The horizon of fraternity also has to do with the need for fulfilment of every man and woman. People’s legitimate ambitions, especially in the case of the young, should not be thwarted or offended, nor should people be robbed of their hope of realizing them. Nevertheless, ambition must not be confused with the abuse of power. On the contrary, people should compete with one another in mutual esteem (cf. Rm 12:10). In disagreements, which are also an unavoidable part of life, we should always remember that we are brothers and sisters, and therefore teach others and teach ourselves not to consider our neighbour as an enemy or as an adversary to be eliminated.

Fraternity generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good. And so a political community must act in a transparent and responsible way to favour all this. Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom. Yet frequently a wedge is driven between citizens and institutions by partisan interests which disfigure that relationship, fostering the creation of an enduring climate of conflict.

An authentic spirit of fraternity overcomes the individual selfishness which conflicts with people’s ability to live in freedom and in harmony among themselves. Such selfishness develops socially – whether it is in the many forms of corruption, so widespread today, or in the formation of criminal organizations, from small groups to those organized on a global scale. These groups tear down legality and justice, striking at the very heart of the dignity of the person. These organizations gravely offend God, they hurt others and they harm creation, all the more so when they have religious overtones.

I also think of the heartbreaking drama of drug abuse, which reaps profits in contempt of the moral and civil laws. I think of the devastation of natural resources and ongoing pollution, and the tragedy of the exploitation of labour. I think too of illicit money trafficking and financial speculation, which often prove both predatory and harmful for entire economic and social systems, exposing millions of men and women to poverty. I think of prostitution, which every day reaps innocent victims, especially the young, robbing them of their future. I think of the abomination of human trafficking, crimes and abuses against minors, the horror of slavery still present in many parts of the world; the frequently overlooked tragedy of migrants, who are often victims of disgraceful and illegal manipulation. As John XXIII wrote: "There is nothing human about a society based on relationships of power. Far from encouraging, as it should, the attainment of people’s growth and perfection, it proves oppressive and restrictive of their freedom". 17 Yet human beings can experience conversion; they must never despair of being able to change their lives. I wish this to be a message of hope and confidence for all, even for those who have committed brutal crimes, for God does not wish the death of the sinner, but that he converts and lives (cf. Ez 18:23).

In the broad context of human social relations, when we look to crime and punishment, we cannot help but think of the inhumane conditions in so many prisons, where those in custody are often reduced to a subhuman status in violation of their human dignity and stunted in their hope and desire for rehabilitation. The Church does much in these environments, mostly in silence. I exhort and I encourage everyone to do more, in the hope that the efforts being made in this area by so many courageous men and women will be increasingly supported, fairly and honestly, by the civil authorities as well.

Fraternity helps to preserve and cultivate nature

9. The human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature. The Christian view of creation includes a positive judgement about the legitimacy of interventions on nature if these are meant to be beneficial and are performed responsibly, that is to say, by acknowledging the "grammar" inscribed in nature and by wisely using resources for the benefit of all, with respect for the beauty, finality and usefulness of every living being and its place in the ecosystem. Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it. Yet so often we are driven by greed and by the arrogance of dominion, possession, manipulation and exploitation; we do not preserve nature; nor do we respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.

In a particular way, the agricultural sector is the primary productive sector with the crucial vocation of cultivating and protecting natural resources in order to feed humanity. In this regard the continuing disgrace of hunger in the world moves me to share with you the question: How are we using the earth’s resources? Contemporary societies should reflect on the hierarchy of priorities to which production is directed. It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger. Initiatives and possible solutions are many, and are not limited to an increase in production. It is well known that present production is sufficient, and yet millions of persons continue to suffer and die from hunger, and this is a real scandal. We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being. In this regard I would like to remind everyone of that necessary universal destination of all goods which is one of the fundamental principles of the Church’s social teaching. Respect for this principle is the essential condition for facilitating an effective and fair access to those essential and primary goods which every person needs and to which he or she has a right.

Conclusion

10. Fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to. But only love, bestowed as a gift from God, enables us to accept and fully experience fraternity.

The necessary realism proper to politics and economy cannot be reduced to mere technical know-how bereft of ideals and unconcerned with the transcendent dimension of man. When this openness to God is lacking, every human activity is impoverished and persons are reduced to objects that can be exploited. Only when politics and the economy are open to moving within the wide space ensured by the One who loves each man and each woman, will they achieve an ordering based on a genuine spirit of fraternal charity and become effective instruments of integral human development and peace.

We Christians believe that in the Church we are all members of a single body, all mutually necessary, because each has been given a grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ, for the common good (cf. Eph 4:7,25; 1 Cor 12:7). Christ has come to the world so as to bring us divine grace, that is, the possibility of sharing in his life. This entails weaving a fabric of fraternal relationships marked by reciprocity, forgiveness and complete self-giving, according to the breadth and the depth of the love of God offered to humanity in the One who, crucified and risen, draws all to himself: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35). This is the good news that demands from each one a step forward, a perennial exercise of empathy, of listening to the suffering and the hopes of others, even those furthest away from me, and walking the demanding path of that love which knows how to give and spend itself freely for the good of all our brothers and sisters.

Christ embraces all of humanity and wishes no one to be lost. "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17). He does it without oppressing or constraining anyone to open to him the doors of heart and mind. "Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves" – Jesus Christ says – "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:26-27). Every activity therefore must be distinguished by an attitude of service to persons, especially those furthest away and less known. Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace.

May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, help us to understand and live every day the fraternity that springs up from the heart of her Son, so as to bring peace to each person on this our beloved earth.

From the Vatican, 8 December 2013

FRANCISCUS

_______________________

1 Cf. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 19: AAS 101 (2009), 654-655.

2 Cf. FRANCIS, Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013), 54: AAS 105 (2013), 591-592.

3 Cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 87: AAS 59 (1967), 299.

4 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 39: AAS 80 (1988), 566-568.

5 Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 43: AAS 59 (1967), 278-279.

6 Cf. ibid., 44: AAS 59 (1967), 279.

7 Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (20 December 1987), 38: AAS 80 (1988), 566.

8 Ibid., 38-39: AAS 80 (1988), 566-567.

9 Ibid., 40: AAS 80 (1988), 569.

10 Ibid.

11 Cf. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 19: AAS 101 (2009), 654-655.

12 Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 66, art. 2.

13 SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 69; cf. LEO XIII, Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum (15 May 1891), 19: ASS 23 (1890-1891), 651; JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical LetterSollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 42: AAS 80 (1988), 573-574; PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE,Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 178.

14 Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Hominis (4 March 1979), 16: AAS 61 (1979), 290.

15 Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 159.

16 FRANCIS, Letter to President Putin, 4 September 2013: L’Osservatore Romano, 6 September 2013, p. 1.

17 Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963), 17: AAS 55 (1963), 265