Madagascar – some information about our life as Church

This contribution reflects what we are living in the Church in Madagascar: a Church that celebrates, that hopes, that struggles, a Church among a population that is longing for truth and reconciliation, longing to live in security.

  • The celebration of the 140th anniversary of the arrival of Father Finaz and the first missionaries in Fianarantsoa and also the canonisation of Jacques Berthieu (SJ martyr); 
  • the big gathering for the World Youth Days Mada 7 at Antsiranana where the young people were called on to base their life on Christ; 
  • the year of faith and the proclamation of the synod on evangelisation …
… these events stimulate us and call us to be witnesses to Christ in everyday life and, like our ancestors, to live with faith what we are doing humbly in the vocations ministry and with the women of the "Kintana" workshop. 
 
After several years of investigation and enquiry, the Church has recognised the sanctity of Fr Jacques Berthieu. He was a French missionary priest, a Jesuit, who arrived in Madagascar in 1875. He carried out his mission in several areas of Madagascar, above all on the East Coast and the high plateaux including Fianarantsoa.
 
Five points were mentioned concerning his way of living and working: 
He was a tireless apostle, by night and by day. 
He was close to the people and was attentive to their needs. 
He did a lot of work with couples, having the aim of sanctifying family life through the sacrament of marriage. 
He was a witness to the faith: at the time of the persecution of Christians he was threatened and he preferred to die rather than renounce his faith. 
A good priest and a good religious, he lived his life and his attachment to Christ at a deep level. 
He was canonised in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on the 21st October 2012. The same day, celebrations were also held in Madagascar, like the one at Ambiatibe, 50 km to the north of Antananarivo, where he was martyred, and at Fianarantsoa where he carried out considerable work. A pilgrimage, followed by a Eucharistic celebration was organised by the Diocese to mark the day. During the walk towards the mountain we made a way of the cross that was based on the life and passion of Saint Jacques Berthieu, which greatly resembled the life and passion of Jesus. …
All the parishes of the town were there, praying fervently, proud of this man who is still a model of faith for our Malagasy people. 
 
***** 
 
 
WYD MADA VII
 
This year, the World Youth Days were held at Antsiranana (in the north of Madagascar), from the 5 – 10 September 2012. Arlette and I joined the 40,000 young people from the Island who were present. These young people were spread out over 10 sites. 
 
The theme of these WYD was: 
"Young Catholics, stand up, live in faith and be rooted in Christ." 
 
Several bishops of Madagascar came to comment on this theme: 
  • Mgr Philippe Ranaivomanana (Bishop of Antsirabe), stressed unity in God, Trinity, a unity to which we young people are called – unity with God but also with one another. 
"You, as a young person of the present day, your presence in the Church is truly precious. So, do not keep Christ just for yourself but share Him – in your family, in the Church! Today’s world needs Christ and it is you who are going to give Him to it." 
Let us take the time to ask ourselves this question: "Who is Christ for me today?" 
 
  • Mgr Vincent Rakotozafy (Bishop of Taolagnaro, from the commission for the Clergy) spoke of certain traditions or customs of the Malagasy culture that are not completely evangelised, above all in the south of the Island; social life is not yet inspired by the Christian life because the traditions and customs existed well before the arrival of Christianity. The saddest thing is that often it is the Christians themselves who are immersed in this reality and who, in spite of their desire, find it difficult to emerge from it. 
As for us, if we wish to attain our desire, we must seriously root our faith in Christ and take all the means that the Church gives us, with the grace and the Spirit of God! 
 
The Eucharistic celebrations during this time were enriching and very well led, as was the Way of the Cross that took place on the Friday afternoon in a big square, very close to the sea. Meditating together on the path that Christ Himself had to follow made me aware of the life of today’s world where justice, law and human dignity are no longer respected. These words came to my mind: "Be strong and take heart because I have overcome the world…" 
 
The events each evening, the different way of singing, of dancing or quite simply of expressing oneself restored value to the Malagasy culture. Each diocese participated very well in them. 
A prayer vigil took place during the Saturday night, before the big gathering for the closure on Sunday. Just imagine the 40,000 young people praying and singing, all through the night, with the cold wind and the dust that is part of the climate of the region. Weren’t they what we could call "soldiers of Christ"? 
To conclude, we want to tell you that we were offered a tremendous grace. The hope of a new life, with the encouragement of being together, we young people, was an invitation to us to return joyfully to our daily life. An unforgettable time! So, let us walk and work together! 
 
Lanto 
 
 
Here now is Arlette’s account: 
First of all, I’d like to highlight the fact that these WYD Mada 7 were preceded by a huge gathering of the Don Bosco Salesian Youth from all over Madagascar which was held from the 1–5 September at Ambanja, about a half-hour by road from Antsiranana. I participated in it. As well as having a preparation for the WYD, the group also had times for sharing and for evaluating the previous year, after which the young people drew up new projects for the pastoral year. 
 
At the WYD, we had talks that were followed by a time for questions. All that the Bishops said to us concerned the life of young people now, as well as their future. I share with you some questions that touched me deeply. 
 
"You, the young people, what is the depth of your faith and to what extent do you take on your responsibilities in the life of the Church, in society, your family, the country? Because, it is you who are the future of the Church and of the country. So, hold firm in the faith and live it in acts so as to proclaim the Good News with simple actions."
 
"Who among you doesn’t have an aim? You all have an aim. Make efforts every day to achieve it and don’t forget to think and ask for the help of the Blessed Trinity before starting your work and to give thanks when you have finished. 
 
"You young people, you are the salt of the earth! So, go and proclaim the good News. Do not be afraid to be witnesses to Christ in all that you are going to do." 
Arlette
 
 
***** 
 
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF MEETINGS WITH YOUNG WOMEN 
Since February 2012, the young women who ask to enter with the LSA have a time of recollection at the formation house known as "SOAMAHARAVO" at Ampopoka. This time of recollection is led by the four young Malagasy sisters. Some fifteen young women take part: those who are staying in the little house and others. 
 
Usually, in the morning there is a talk and a time of personal prayer; in the afternoon a time for sharing the result of the recollection as well as a time for them to get to know one another through a game or a relaxing time together such as looking at a film of Bible story etc. To facilitate the time of personal prayer we give some guidelines for reflection and/or meditation. 
At the end of the day, with the next meeting in view, we discuss together the theme that might help them in their journey with Jesus Christ. 
Several subjects were proposed such as: 
The call of God 
The call to the religious life 
The spiritual life 
Maturity 
 
All these themes are based on the Bible. Our aim is to help the young women: 
to discern their call in their choice of life and to give a personal response; 
to put into effect, in a simple way in daily life, the practice of the Gospel; 
to get to know the Congregation, gradually; 
to maintain the link between them and the L.S.A. 
 
Louisette 
 
 
It was the first time for me to take part in the organisation of these meetings with the young women. I feel that knowing one another like this is very important. The young women discover their path and let themselves be known only gradually. The fact that they come is already an encouragement as well as being a sign of the future. These meetings help them to nourish their desire to respond to the call of God, to know themselves and to know the Congregation. I can sense all that through their questions and what they share. 
 
Charline 
 
 
A DREAM COME TRUE
 
That is what N… said a few days ago in talking to a person who had come to meet the women at the workshop known as "Kintana" (star in Malagasy). 
Is it a desire? A project? A dream? It is probably these three aspects together that made it possible for the local women, supported by a sister of the community, to set up, gradually, this little workshop for cutting out and sewing. And today, to hear the words "it’s no longer a dream but a reality’ tells us a lot about the journey they have made. 
 
A reality where courage, solidarity and fragility are mingled in a group where, some days, life is difficult but where there is also mutual help in the work and on the occasion of some events, happy or sad, such as the death of a woman from the workshop during the birth of her little daughter, Marina, who was cared for by another woman from the workshop. Another said: "It is the support for one another that keep me going", another said. It is true that each of them has a "difficult" life because they have to see to all the different family needs in an economic context that at the moment is very difficult. 
 
The reality of sharing equally among themselves the money earned by the sale of their work, according to the hours worked and after the deduction of expenses. 
 
Reality in seeing in common about the work to be done, in cutting out and sewing, and, as far as possible, the responsibilities: keeping the accounts, the cutting out, approaching potential clients for work etc. Once a month we have a meeting to share: "What is going well in the workshop, what is not going well and can be improved." This exchange is always an important occasion for each one to take responsibility for the operation of the workshop. 
 
The reality of discovering in oneself the ability to create, to make something lovely and to be proud of it. 
Without abandoning the usual products: school smocks, work overalls etc., we studied together how we might innovate using the remnants of material and the local knowledge. We began with patchwork cushion covers, which was not particularly successful so, what would we do? The idea of making hand bags or backpacks was put forward. Two of them, supported by all the others prepared to venture into the unknown. The beginnings were laborious as everything had to be done from scratch: the patterns, the making up, the embroidery motifs (the Malagasy people have a great talent for embroidery). But as the days went by, according as the bags were made, continually improving, the women began to have an expression of healthy pride. When the first bag was sold Charline said: "This encourages me, I am capable of doing that."
 
Our community, committed in this apostolic project, can feel strongly the balance that has constantly to be found, not between "dream and reality" but rather between "hope and reality": the hope that one day this group will begin to function independently, and the reality of seeing the path that each one follows over time at the human, social and family levels. 
 
Marie-Céline
28/02/2013
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