Work by Manuel Ferreira da Silva, historian, founder of the newspaper Voz das Misericórdias and author of several books about the Holy Houses, whose reproduction is graciously authorized by the Portuguese Mercies Union, to whom we thank in the person of its President, Dr. Manuel de Lemos.


1 - What is a Mercy?

A fraternity (association or congregation) of laity, animated by the same faith and united by the same purpose of witnessing together a fraternal charity, representing a presence and force of hope force to those in need.

2 - Who is a Brother of the Mercy?

He that, living and demonstrating by ideas, words, works and ways of behaviour, with an evangelical vocation for the generous fraternal volunteering, proposes to, in accordance with the historical rules of the commitment, render a service of helping and attendance, in the ways of a Good Samaritan.

3 - How is defined and expressed the specific vocation of a Brother of the Mercy?

Feeling, as Jesus Christ said and demonstrated, nearer to those in need of help, without demanding for conditions or anything in return, having only in consideration the good that he renders, and never the advantages that he may personally benefit from.

4 - What does "Mercy" ("misericórdia") mean?

As it is mention in the word in its literal decomposition "Miseris + cor + dare": Have a place in the heart for all of those that are victims of any form of misery. Or "give the heart to the miserable victims of any misery", without any discrimination of any sort or exclusion of any nature.

5 - What are the 14 works of mercy?

- Feed those who are hungry;

- Provide drinking to those who are thirsty;

- Dress the naked;

- Host those that are strayed;

- Visit the sick;

- Redeem the confined;

- Bury the dead.

These are the said physical works of mercy. The spiritual ones are:

- Give good advice to those who ask for;

- Teach the ignorant;

- Correct those who are wrong;

- Console those who are sad;

- Forgive the insults;

- Bear with patience the weaknesses of our fellow man;

- Pray to God for the living and the deceased;

- Who should be considered our fellow man?

Anyone to which one feels close to; not so much anyone that may have more sympathy or affinity, ethnical, cultural, social, religious, political with us. There are no boundaries of any nature for charity. For those who love, there are no distances, discriminations or conditions. The good is made only because it is good, since the good we practice must also improve who carries it out.

7 - When did the Mercies movement begin?

In good historical accuracy, we must say that it was with Jesus Christ himself, when the gospel says "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy". (MT. V, 7: Lc. VI, 36). As an movement organized in Fraternity or Confraternity, it is well present in the first Christian communities, from whom it is said that the brothers "where all united in one single heart" and "in one single soul". (Act. IV,32:E), in that way, were instituted the "Table services" for the care of those in most need, creating a body of "deacons". Through out time, it embodied a more defined organization, even being designated as "Confraternity" or "Fraternity", in 1244, in the city of Florence, with the providential impulse of St. Peter, the Martyr, from the Order of Preachers

8 - What motivated the creation of the Mercy's Confraternities?

The constant disputes among groups, classes, cities, political forces and order organizations of struggle and ambitions, in the high Middle Age, that transformed paths into battle grounds, motivated some more generous Christians to intercede and establish good relations between the parties and disputed. Shouting "Piety! Piety" "Mercy! Mercy!" with their hands extended, together or with open arms, becoming designated as "mãoposteiros".

9 - By whom were the Mercies created?

Only by the laity, who constituted intervening groups, benefiting the best blessings and support from the Church. Therefore, the Mercies are genuinely laity: namely, Christian laity, but not of secular nature. They are, therefore, a big movement of mobilization of laity, creating more tradition and without ever becoming outdated.

10 - How did the Mercies expand?

Having the wars slowed down and the emerge of religious orders intensified, from charismas, sermons and many other ways of mission, the time of the great Pilgrimages and Crusades to the Holy Lands arrived: Jerusalem, Roma, Santiago de Compostela, besides many Sanctuaries as Cologne, Chartres, Rocamador etc. Motivated in such way, countless ways of assistance to the pilgrims, with the establishment of Hostels, hospitals, leprosarium and may ways of welcoming and support, providing assistance and solidarity, arising from the best Christian Humanism, mobilizing in the best spirit of "crusade" and of charity in carrying out the of doing well, were put into practice according to the 14 works of Mercy.

11 - What was the exact historical moment of official institution of the Mercies in Portugal?

Precisely on 15 of August of 1498, in the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety (of the loose land), resuming a very much devoted and ancient Portuguese tradition, and giving it new ways and programs of action, in a commitment according to all the 14 works of Mercy, which made them classically originals and more comprehensive than all of those before.   

12 - To whom is it owed the institution of our Mercies?

To the generous enterprise of the Queen D. Leonor de Lencastre, widow of King D. João II, , the Cardinal D. Jorge da Costa (Alpedrinha), the most outstanding advisor of the Queen and protector in Rome, as well as being very close to the Portuguese royal family since D. Afonso V and eminent figure of prestige near the Vatican. Even closer to the Queen may have been the Friar Miguel Contreiras, her confessor, and a great apostle of the poor and the outcastes in the streets of Lisbon. By a very significant deference, and from a gesture of personal humbleness, the Queen did not wish to have her figure in the flags as the founder; but consignee in the deed of the foundation that she gave: "permission, consent and a mandate" as well as the college of the See where "award, authority and help" was founded. The Mercies became therefore, work of "Good Men" that the Court supported, the Church blessed, respecting each others' necessary autonomy. Thus, one can say that, in the future, the Holy Houses, as the thankful people would canonized them, form with the civil authority and with the ecclesiastic hierarchy a trilogy of intentions, ways and of converging projects, and in the best spirit of partnership for the benefit of the community and this can be equated in: Municipality, Matrix and Mercy.

13 - What is the specific difference of the Mercies said of Florence, or of St. Peter, martyr, and those of the Queen D. Leonor?

While the one in Florence, as well as the traditional Confraternities, had their "commitment" - "by-laws" - equated solely with the 7 physical works of mercy as basis, those of D. Leonor, programmed their Commitment under the letter and spirit of the 14 works of mercy, which provided a broader scope of a programme of assistance of universal nature, more comprehensive and globalizing, as they cared for the man as a whole - body and soul - and to all the men, without any discrimination, which equalled to a true caring revolution in the Kingdom and for the time, grated them a unique charisma of survival and perpetual currentness.

14 - What is the Mercies fundamental law?

The Mercies, as an organized institution of citizens mobilized in a volunteering of associated fraternity - by spontaneous will or by invitation - only have one law, specifically evangelical: the charity, objectively determined in the words of Jesus Christ: "love one another as brothers" (Jo. XIII,34), resumed by St. John: "in such a way has God loved us, that we should love one another" (I Jo.IV,41).  

15 - How is the mercies work an expression and testimony of that law?

Being defined charity as the virtue and the grace of loving God above anything else, because only for Him we feel truly loved; and, having become a law of the New Alliance, it entails, as its direct complement, the practice to "love the next as we love ourselves. And in such manner is summarized and conformed the Law and the Prophets (MT. VIII,12). 

16 - Can the number 14 of the mercy works, as old as the Gospel, still be equated under the demands and social deprivation of each time?

Consisting charity in the virtue of "Loving God and the next", only its divine charisma must be in focus, without any ulterior motives, conforming, however, with all the specific ways that love must cover, to express itself with a sense of urgency and currentness, according with the demands and needs of each community, the shortages of each place, facing the challenges of each time, seeking to be, according to the to the words of the time, a punctual and prompt, facing the most demanding emergencies, with social services of concrete and permanent words, that impose themselves, by their power of rapid intervention and by their sense of convincing expression of the humane and Christian solidarity; and even as generous exercise of intervening citizenship. 

17 - What is the global reason of the mercy's works?

It is of double meaning and value, as follows: 1. Being 7 the physical works of mercy, and 7 the spiritual works of mercy, they cover the Man as a whole, body and soul; 2. Being its wording equated for ever after, and according with the universal spirit of the Gospel that was ordered to be announced to all the man, to all the peoples, and in all the world, they involve mankind's universality, without any shred of discrimination. 3. Allowing its interpretation to be analyzed under the needs of each time and people, they involve all the centuries and all the situations of need, according to the type of hunger, thirst, ignorance or need that is suffered, and that in each time takes a different shape. 4. Therefore, they are the summary of the most universal involvement that could have been considered in the existential solidarity sector, without never losing its currentness or missing its opportunity.  

18 - Has the number 14 any symbolism, or is it a mere binding unit, limitative of the generosity?

Being the total of 2 x 7 (two times seven), the number 14 that equates the works of mercy is a profoundly symbolic number, since number 7, either in the biblical or mythological interpretation, is a symbol of all, of completeness, of "ever more", "even further", "higher" and "more perfect". According to the words of John Paul II, it is the number that signifies "inventing each day the ways that can better serve the brothers…to the extreme of love. Because it is the service to the others that transforms the existence" (in World Youth Day in Paris, Summer of 1997).  

19 - What is the Commitment of the Mercy Fraternity?

It is the fundamental and statutory text of a body of doctrine, organization, behaviour, tasks and activities, as well as a calendar of celebrations and actions to be carried out, having in view 2 very specific and complimentary objectives:

The cult of Jesus Christ and of Our Lady of Mercy;

And the organized and disciplined practice of the 14 works of mercy according to a certain urgency of values and needs in benefit of those that are in more need;


20 - Is a Commitment the same thing as a Statute?

The word statute was introduced in the Mercy's vocabulary, following a secularism policy by a liberal anti-chlericism of 1834, with the wish for the Mercies to become equal to mere secular institutions. By introducing the designation of Statue or regime, they could be under the web of bureaucracy as any other institutions that the State wished to control; but the Mercies that take pride and wish to be faithful to their vocation and mission of Holy Houses, must search in the purity of their fonts and roots, the strength of their identity, and chose to have, not a simple statute, though a Commitment which the brothers will assume and commit to respect and follow, even witnessing it as a personal way of living rule. 

21 - How and when was the Commitment made?

By determination of the queen D. Leonor, with the personal and direct support of the Friar Miguel Contreiras, but also with the advice and authorized sponsor of Alpedrinha Cardinal (D. Jorge da Costa), the Commitment was printed, illustrated and given to the press with the best and most exquisite artistic charisma, of the King D. Manuel I, brother of the Queen, who has always supported the providential work of D. Leonor.

22 - What is the genuine, historical and traditional legal status of the Portuguese Mercies?

That of independent charitable associations committed in the practice and testimony of Christina charity, and in everything that are ways of intervention and social welfare, although with tow very concrete parts, that make of them a border institution and of convergence between the Church and the State, deserving from each the legal status of, as social institutions, being considered as a "intermediate body" complimentary and cooperative and of public use. These two parts are explained on one hand, being Fraternities, in their most historical and traditional sense, with religious defined objectives, with private temples of their property, the rendering of religious services and cult celebration, having a canonical statute with a orthodoxy that is confided to the tutelage of the Church, as well as the approval of their commitment whenever reviewed and updated, for the guarantee of faithfulness to the canonical doctrine and discipline; On the other hand, as independent charitable associations have specific objectives, touching the sphere of social welfare depending or (and) supported by the State, recognizing them as such, true "public utility", of cooperation and complimentarily, under the light of the principles that guide a mutual Social Pact system, done in cooperation and complimentary agreements, but never of overtaking, conflict, interfering and of any conflicting intervention that threatens its orthodoxy and autonomy.

23 - What other characteristic demonstrates the Mercies autonomy?

Among the Mercies that we are aware of, and starting with the one of Lisbon with the Queen D. Leonor, as its maternal dam, none was instituted by the force of a State's official decree, nor in virtue of a Church's canonical dispatch. They were, everywhere, and always, the initiative of laity citizens, that, from and in benefit of the community, witnessing, through the generous exercise of charity, their faith, and even also as a way and expression of unquestionable and undisputable love for their Home, but in the view and felt person of their fellow citizens more in need. 

24 - What influence had the sovereigns in regards to the Mercies?

On one hand, recommending their establishment, but advising first that the "Good Men" of each village or city of the Kingdom be the ones to take the initiative of its establishment, sending them, at the much, envoys with royal letters suggesting, but not imposing, however, and since the beginning, considering them as Fraternities, D. Manuel declared them as works under royal protection. On the other, the ecclesiastic hierarchy blesses and indulged its institution, as a work specifically of Christian laity committed to the Fraternities of well doing, even taking pride many Bishops as well as many priests of wishing to have the owner of being between the confrere, Mesários and Presidents. The Mercies, although not being clerical institutions, were, and will always be a Christian activity of professed laity and committed in the testimony of a charitable activity and always active and according to expression of ecllesiality very much of their own.

25 - What cultural values can be equated in the vocation, message and mission of the Mercies?

Five as follows:

Christian origin and inspiration, with a dense theological ballast of the strongest and sublime sociology, expressed in all the text of its Commitment;

Its ordination in the ways of a Fraternity or Confraternity, as the only associative way congregating men of the same faith, worries and mission, which is to live and fulfil charity together, the love for all, since it is as brothers of all the men that Christ tells us to love one another and that we place ourselves under his service: in Its name.

Plural scope of the 14 works of Mercy, multi comprehensive of all the needs that one can suspect of, to answer them, in the most generous and diversified ways of assistance: Pooling and Solidarity, Economy and Social Promotion, Meaning of Life and hope message near those that are more in need of;

Autonomy and independence, but at the same time, respect and cooperation, always in a mission of understanding and complimentary services, functions and missions, in face of the two great institutions: a) the State, that has always respected its autonomy and supported them, without taking over, safe for only a few anomalous situations; b) the Church, that has always blessed them, without ever affecting their originality of being the work of laity committed in giving witness of the faith in the organized practice of doing good, according to the spirit of the Gospel, and what were always benefited with the canonical characteristic of exemption.

Universality and ecumenicity, since that, having as a paradigm of behaviour and action the figure and captivating example of the Good Samaritan, one does not distinguish, neither the faith, nor the religions, nor the cultures, nor the policies, nor the geographical and social longitude or latitude, caring only to do good, only because it is good.

26 - In accordance with the word and spirit of the Commitment what must be the principle characteristics (testimonies of character) of the brothers of the Mercy Fraternity?

As it is imposed in the drafting of the 1st and historical Commitment, although with a future adaptation of still and wording, but without changing the spirit of what is essential, the qualities to be demanded are these:

I - Brothers: To be accepted by brothers, the candidates - besides being Men of good conscience and reputation, fearing of God, modest, charitable and humble, to whom it is requested that serve God and the poor with the due perfection, must also have among others some conditions that can be expressed in the following way:

- Be clean of Blood;

- Be free of all Infamy;

- Be of suitable age;

- Be of good understanding and knowledge;

- Have means of subsistence, so that the does not serve himself from the assets of the Fraternity, nor raise suspicion that he will take advantage from what goes through his hands.

I - Mesários and President:

- To be a noble man of authority;

- Virtuous;

- Very humble and patient with the misguided considerations of men that he will use and practice;

- Share among themselves all the positions according to what "serves God more";

- And for those that each feels "more auto", in the sense he feels more apt in conditions to better serve, the objectives of the Mercy;

27 - How should an admission of a candidate to Brother be made?

According to the best traditions, and in accordance with the most clear spirit of the Holy House, the admission of the candidate was made through a petition - today a registration form with the information about his life, intentions and customs; and after a voting of the brothers, only he who gathered in his name "22 with beans facing up" can be accepted. Take in due consideration that the Confraternity as always underlined, should be composed of "Brothers of good reputation, healthy conscience and honest livelihood, fearing to good and keeper of their own.

Since when does the "Mercy of Macau" exist?

In 1569, the Bishop D. Melchior Carneiro decided to establish the confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy: "When I arrived in this Port, said to be of the name of God, there were few houses of Portuguese [...] As soon as I arrived, I opened a hospital, where Christians and pagans are admitted [...] I have created also a Mercy Confraternity to provide for all the ashamed poor and to those in need" (Cfr. José Caetano Soares, Macau e a Assistência [Panorama Médico-Social]. Lisboa: Agência Geral das Colónias, 1950, p. 12).