Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 18 Feb in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In our series of catecheses on the family, after having considered the role of the mother, the father and children, today is the turn of brothers and sisters. “Brother” and “sister” are words that Christianity loves very much. And, thanks to the family experience, they are words that all cultures and all times understand.
The fraternal bond has a special place in the history of the People of God, which receives his revelation in the midst of the human experience. The Psalmist sings the beauty of the fraternal bond: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 132:1). How beautiful this is! Jesus Christ also brought to its fullness this human experience of being brothers and sisters, assuming it in the Trinitarian love and expanding it so that it goes well beyond the bonds of kinship and can surmount every wall of extraneousness.
We know that when the fraternal relation is ruined, it opens the way to painful experiences of conflict, of betrayal, of hatred. The biblical account of Cain and Abel is an example of this negative outcome. After the killing of Abel, God asks Cain: “Where is Abel, your brother?” (Genesis 4:9a). It is a question that the Lord continues to repeat in every generation. And, unfortunately, in every generation Cain’s tragic answer also does not cease to be repeated: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9b). But when the fraternal bond between brothers is broken, it becomes something awful and also evil for humanity. And in families also, how many brothers have argued over little things or for an inheritance, and then they do not speak to one another anymore, they do not greet each other anymore. This is awful!
However, brotherhood is a great thing — to think that all brothers have dwelt in the womb of the same mother during nine months. They come from the mother’s flesh! And brotherhood cannot be broken. Let us think a bit: we all know families that have brothers that are divided, that have argued. Let us give it some thought and pray to the Lord for these families. And, perhaps, in our family there are some cases for which we need the Lord to help us to reunite brothers: to rebuild the family. Brotherhood must not be broken. And when it is broken, what ensues is what happened with Cain and Abel. And when the Lord asks Cain where his brother was, he says: ”But I don’t know. I don’t care about my brother.” This is awful and it is something very, very painful to hear. But in our prayers we always pray for brothers who are divided.
The bond of brotherhood that is formed in the family between children happens in a climate of education of openness to others, it is the great school of freedom and peace. Human coexistence is learned in the family among brothers [and sisters], as one must coexist in society. Perhaps we are not always aware, of it but it is in fact the family that introduces brotherhood in the world! Beginning from this first experience of brotherhood, nourished by affections and family education, the style of brotherhood is radiated as a promise over the whole society and its relations between peoples.
The blessing that God, in Jesus Christ, pours down on this bond of brotherhood,expands it in an unimaginable way, rendering it capable of going beyond every difference of nation, language, culture and even of religion.
Think what the bond between men and women becomes — who are also very different among themselves — when they can say to one another: ”He is in fact like a brother, she is in fact like a sister to me!” This is beautiful, no? It’s beautiful! History has shown us sufficiently, however, that, without brotherhood, freedom and equality can also be filled with individualism and conformity, also of interests.
Brotherhood shines in a family in a special way when we see the solicitude, the patience, the affection with which the weaker little brother or the little sister, the sick, or bearers of handicaps are surrounded. There are very many brothers and sisters in the whole world who do this, and perhaps we do no appreciate their generosity enough. And when there are many brothers in a family — today I greeted a family there that has nine — the greatest help to the father, to the mother is to take care of the little ones. And this work of help between brothers is beautiful!
To have a brother, a sister who loves you is an intense experience, invaluable, irreplaceable. The same thing happens with Christian brotherhood. The littlest, the weakest, the poorest mustmake us tender: they have the “right” to have our soul and heart. Yes, they are our brothers and, as such, we must love and relate to them. When this happens, when the poor are as of our home, our Christian brotherhood itself takes on life. In fact, when Christians go to encounter the poor and the weak they do so not to obey an ideological program, but because the Lord’s word and example tell us that they are our brothers. This is the principle of the love of God and of all justice between men.
I suggest something to you: before ending — I have a few lines left — let each one of us, in silence, think of our brothers and our sisters. Let’s think in silence and, in the silence of our heart, let us pray for them — an instant of silence.
(Moment of silent prayer.)
See, with this prayer we have brought all our brothers and sisters with our thought and with our heart here, to the Square, to receive the blessing. Thank you!
Today more than ever it is necessary to bring brotherhood back to the center of our technocratic and bureaucratic society: then freedom and equality will also have their just intonation. Therefore, let us not, with a light heart, deprive our families out of suggestion or fear, of the beauty of an ample fraternal experience of sons and daughters, And let us not lose confidence in the breadth of the horizon that faith is able to draw from this experience, illuminated by God’s blessing. Thank you!