Catholic Church Leaders Also Called “to be a brother, a son”, Nuncio in Southern Africa

Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, Apostolic Nuncio to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Credit: SACBC

The Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa, Archbishop Peter Brian Wells, has called on Catholic Church leaders to not only lead the people of God under their pastoral care, but to also be a “brother” to their respective congregations.

In an interview with ACI Africa about his diplomatic mission in Southern Africa, the representative of the Holy Father in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa said, “One of the things that I have learned… and I think it's a lesson that all people in leadership in the Church should learn, is that, especially as a Bishop today, not only are you called to be a father to the congregation, to your flock, you're also called to be a brother.”

“But you're also called to be a son at times, which means that you have to be humble enough and listen, and to let the elders take your hand and lead you where you need to go, and not be afraid of being criticized or at times scolded for something you did. It only makes you better”, said Archbishop Wells in the Monday, October 3 interview.

He added, “That is a life lesson that I've learned that I think has been extremely important in a place like Africa. Africa has so much wisdom to offer, if you only listen and watch, and look.”

The American-born Vatican diplomat further said that during his six and a half years in Southern Africa, he noticed that the church in the areas he said he had “served as a minority”, is not as vocal as it used to be during the time of apartheid.


“I think during the time of apartheid it had a very clear voice in the struggle. It was on the forefront of the struggle, of fighting for the rights of people and was very outspoken and vocal as a voice for the voiceless”, he said.

The South Africa-based Apostolic Nuncio added, “When apartheid was finished, I think the church in a sense has struggled now to find its new voice, and I think it's struggling to finding it. I think it's still got some work to do. I would like to see them dealing particularly in areas of formation of the young, even catechetical formation, that's something that we really need to look at.”

In the October 3 interview, Archbishop Wells encouraged Church leaders in Southern Africa to have more women in “positions of authority”, and to “develop very good media strategies”.

“In Southern Africa, we have a lot of women who are involved at certain levels; I think there's always room for improvement,” the 59-year-old Vatican diplomat who started serving as Apostolic Nuncio in the five Southern African nation in 2016 said.

He continued, “I worked in the Vatican for many years, and we were at that time already putting women in different places in the Vatican. Pope Benedict did a good job of putting a number of women in high level positions; Pope Francis continued it and has really increased it.”

More in Africa

“I think we have more work to do here. I would like to see women in more jobs, especially within the church and in positions of authority,” added Archbishop Wells.

He lauded the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) for being “one of the only Bishops conferences in the world which had a woman who was the General Secretary of the conference.”

“Sister Hermenegild Makro was for years Secretary General of the conference, and she did a fantastic job. Now we have Sister Phuthunywa Siyali who is the Assistant Secretary General. So that is I think a great development at the level of structures within the conference themselves, where I see that there could be improvement made at Diocesan levels,” he said.

The representative of the Holy Father in the five Southern African countries noted that for there to be “an active, engaged and involved church”, the society needs to move away from traditional practices that disregarded the involvement of women in Church structures.

He said he found it regrettable that “there's also a tendency on the part of some of our faithful who think that men should be running this. And this is unfortunate, but it's kind of a reaction that we have because of maybe some old traditional ideas.”


“We've got to move away from that and realize that if we really want to have an active, engaged and involved church, we have to have women present at so many different levels of the church,” Archbishop Wells emphasized during the October 3 interview.

He went on to acknowledge the importance of digital media strategies, saying, “Media is changing so rapidly and traditional forms of media as we know in our own experience in Southern Africa are falling along the wayside. They're having a hard time sustaining themselves, for all sorts of reasons.”

“There are all sorts of other ways of communication today that may be even more effective,” the Vatican diplomat in Southern Africa said, adding, “We need to learn and to see where we can tap into our youth and have them teach us and help us on how to use these methods to really get the good news out to people.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.