Let's Grow the Fraternity



(This letter is based on a booklet by Tony Philpot)


In his Encyclical Fratelli Tutti (par.287), Pope Francis refers to Charles de Foucauld, whose life and spirit are the inspiration for Jesus Caritas. Recently, the Pope has announced 15th May 2022 as the date for the canonisation of Blessed Charles, whom he obviously considers to have an important message for our age. This letter is an invitation from the Regional Leaders’ Team of England &Wales & Scotland to all Clergy.


There was an unusual holy man in the heart of Africa at the start of the last century. His name was Charles de Foucauld, and he was French. He had led a restless life - as soldier, as explorer, as itinerant, and finally as solitary missionary in Algeria. But he was a missionary with a difference. He did not preach to the Arabs and the Touaregs among whom he lived. Instead he tried as literally as he could to be Christ to them, by living humbly alongside them, by being their loving brother.

In a world of dominant military and colonial power, he struck an eccentric note. He was murdered by passing tribesmen in 1916. During his life he achieved very little. But after his death, his friends reflected on his career and put his writings together, and realized that here was a fresh and authentic way of living the Gospel.

Several religious congregations were founded with his life and spirituality as their basis. The two most famous are the Little Brothers and the Little Sisters of Jesus. They stand out from other orders by their philosophy. Yes, they are contemplatives, spending long periods of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. But they also seek work among the poorest and most abandoned members of society, avoiding promotion, earning very little, simply being alongside people who are the bottom of the social pile. Like Charles, they do not preach: they live their conviction and share their love.

In 1951 a group of French priests decided to band together and put these same values into effect in their lives. They turned their back on careerism and prosperity, and opted to live among the simplest people - often people who were a long way from the Church. They decided to live their chaplaincy or their parish life as true brothers to their people, refusing in any way to dominate or manipulate them. It was an apostolate of presence. They made the Eucharist the prayer-centre of their lives, themselves becoming contemplatives in spite of heavy and exhausting duties.

This voluntary association of secular priests became known as the “Jesus Caritas Fraternity”. (“Jesus Caritas” was the emblem chosen by Charles de Foucauld in the Sahara; he put the words above a sketch of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and put it on the wall where it could inspire him). The Fraternity had a particular blend of qualities which attracted priests to it - it was for many an answer to prayer. A large percentage of the French clergy joined; it spread to Italy, to Spain, to the UK and to Ireland, to Germany, and then became worldwide. A group of bishops at the Second Vatican Council, drawn from a variety of countries, were known humorously as the “Little Bishops of Jesus”.

Charles de Foucauld, the footloose holy man of the desert, lives on in his followers. As he tried to put the Gospel into effect as literally as possible, so do they. There is, of course, one difference. He suffered a lot from loneliness, because although he laid plans for a religious congregation, he could persuade no one to join him during his lifetime. In this the Priests’ Fraternity is an answer to his prayers. It is a true brotherhood, giving heart and purpose to our priesthood, fostering friendship. The Catholic Church has changed out of recognition since 1951, but the Fraternity has never become ossified or old-fashioned. It has offered a welcome to secular priests all over the world, from Argentina to the Philippines, from Poland to the United States. Not a few men from religious orders have joined, finding that this kind of ‘belonging’ made them better missionaries. And more recently, deacons too ….

If this model of priesthood and deaconate attracts you, please contact a member of the National Responsible’s Team: www.jesuscaritaspriests.org.uk/information who will be glad to give you further information and put you in touch with your nearest Fraternity, where you may express your interest and see where the Spirit takes you.

A Word version of this letter can be downloaded below, do feel free to adapt and distribute it as you see fit.

Stephen Squires, Regional Responsible, Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests and Deacons


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