Visit of Fr. Tomaž Mavrič CM to Madagascar (October 20th – November 6th, 2017)
The Vincentian mission in Madagascar was developed from the south to the north. Some three hundred seventy years ago Vincent de Paul sent the first missionaries/pioneers to the area of Fort-Dauphin (today known as Taolagnaro): Fr. Nicolas Gondrée (1620-1649), Fr. Charles Nacquart (1617-1650). They boarded ship on March 21st, 1648 in LaRochelle and arrived in Madagascar on December 4th, 1648. Vincent sent many other missionaries to that country but in 1674, his successor, Father René Alméras (1612-1672), suspended all future expeditions to Madagascar.
The continuity of this Vincentian mission in the Apostolic Vicariate of Meridional, Madagascar (established by Leo XIII on January 16th, 1896) was assured by the presence of the multicultural team of Bishop Jean-Jacques Crouzet, CM (1840-1933) … this team extended the mission further south.
Their mission started in Taolagnaro and extended in the east as far as the present diocese of Farafangana, in the west as far as the archdiocese of Toliara and as fast as the present diocese of Marombe. This mission was elevated to the status of a province during the time that Fr. Antoine Fiat, CM and in 2011 the members of the Congregation of the Mission celebrated the 100th anniversary of their presence in that country (the superior general, Father Gregory Gay, CM, was present for that celebration).
This year, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism, Father Tomaž Mavrič, CM, superior general, visited this island in the Indian Ocean. He arrived on October 20th and the following day he traveled to Talaognaro and was accompanied by the assistant visitor, Father Anton Kerin, CM. According to some of the confreres who greeted father general he is reported to have said: to walk on this soil is something great … father was reminding the confreres about the missionaries who had travelled to that land during the time of Vincent de Paul.
Father’s visit involved traveling to various places. The Visitor, Father Alexandre Rafanomenzantsoa, CM, accompanied Father Tomaž during his journey to six different dioceses. In Taolagnaro there was a meeting with the members of the Vincentian Family and the celebration of the Eucharist. This was followed by a journey to the diocese of Ihosy and then to Fianarantsoa where some time was spent at the scholasticate in Tanantsoa. Then the journey continued with visits to the diocese of Farafangana and Antsirabe (there some time was spent at the Antsimontsena-Sabosty Home where the Daughters of Charity care for physically handicapped children). The journey concluded with a visit to Antananarivo.
During his stay, the superior general had numerous meetings and dialogues with the members of the various branches of the Vincentian Family that are ministering in Madagascar: members of the AIC, the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Vincentian Marian Youth, the Miraculous Medal Association, the Nazarene Sisters (founded by Marc Antonio Durando, CM), the Gethsemane Sisters (founded by Fr. Manzella, CM), the Family of Maria Sakalalina (consecrated lay persons … an association founded by Father Lupano, CM) and members of TMM (Tanora Miara-Mavavaka: students and former-students at the Jesuit school who have formed a group dedicated to prayer and charitable work inspired by Vincentian spirituality).
Father General was able to observe various activities and achievements in different areas: pastoral ministry, popular missions, catechetical formation, spiritual animation, chaplains at hospitals, health care, care for children and the elderly, technical and professional formation, promotion of women, projects in the area of rural development and communication. There was also an opportunity to listen to the concerns with regard to finance and structures.
During this visit there were meetings with members of the local church: Bishop Vincent Rakotozafy (Diocese of Taolagnaro), Bishop Fulgence Razakarivony (Diocese of Ihosy) and Bishop José Alfredo Caires de Nobrega (Diocese of Mananjary and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Farafangana). There were meetings with many other individuals who are not members of the Vincentian Family, for example, civil and military authorities.
In his various interventions, Father General emphasized the fact that the Jubilee Year is not simply a time to remember what happened in the past but rather is a time to celebrate and prepare for the future … to open ourselves to all the possibilities that the Vincentian heritage presents to us. We must dream, but dream together and journey along a path of solidarity. We participate in a common vision and hope that enables us to move beyond the present challenges and difficulties. Father stated: if we dream alone, then the dream is merely a dream, but if we dream together then our dreams become reality. We are all called to reach out to others, but to reach out in a special manner to those persons who are poor. Father’s words were an echo of the words of Pope Francis who addressed the members of the Vincentian Family during the time of the Vincentian Symposium that was held in Rome. Indeed, we ought to clothe ourselves in the experience of Vincent de Paul in as much as he is a mystic of charity.
During his visit, Father spoke frequently about three elements of our Vincentian spirituality:
- The primacy of God: intimate union with Christ through daily prayer, spiritual exercises and acts of piety … that is the hidden side of the coin when speaking about the Vincentian experience.
- The mystery of the Incarnation: to give witness to God’s love through affective and effective love for those persons who are marginalized and abandoned … whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40)
- Do not minister alone, but rather collaborate and act together for the mission.
Father also reminded the missionaries about the suggestion he made in his January 25th, 2017 letter, a letter written on the occasion of the Jubilee Year, namely, that every member of the Vincentian Family, regardless of the branch of their membership, pray to the Lord and bring one new member into the worldwide Vincentian Family.
It should be stated here that those men and women who have received the charism of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a heritage are present in 150 countries and number more than two million. These persons have a shared mission and thus, Father General exhorted all of us to act in a co-responsible manner and to reflect together on the local reality that has afflicted so many people with suffering as a result of the negative consequences of poverty. The objective of all of this is to identify “felt needs” that then can lead to the development of a common plan/project.
During his visit, Father General was able to observe the vitality of the Vincentian charism in Madagascar and, at the same, saw the many different projects that have been initiated to benefit the people. Thus, cooperation is necessary not only on the national level but also on the international level. There was a call to utilize the social media and thus make our work known to others … in that way we can receive the support of people’s prayers as well their financial and material support. The members of the Congregation were reminded of the five characteristic virtues, the vows, daily reading of the scriptures, the Divine Office and our Constitutions and the Common Rule … all of which strengthen our identity. We were also reminded about the need to learn a second language, especially those involved in the ministry of formation, and about the international dimension of the Congregation.
One event that has marked the presence of the Vincentians in Madagascar is their extension into the northern most part of the country. On November 5th, the Eucharist was celebrated in the Akamasoa d’Ambohimahitsy Center. During that celebration, Father General and the Visitor sent forth Father Marcin Wisniewski and Father Gérard Paulbert Fetiarison to Mahavokatra where they will collaborate with Archbishop Benjamin Marc Ramaroson (Diocese of Antsiranana); Father Sylver Misy and Father Hery Tiana Randrianaivoson were sent forth to Antanandava-Mampikony where they will collaborate with Bishop Georges Varkey Puthiyakulangara (Diocese of Port—Bergé. The Superior General blessed these missionaries and prayed that they would be given the necessary graces that would enable their ministry to be fruitful.
During this celebration of November 5th there were many gestures and discourses that were intended to express friendship and gratitude. A commemorative plaque was place on the outside wall of the house in Soavimbahoaka, Antananarivo (to the left of St. Vincent’s statue). Yes, we bless the Lord for all that has been done in our midst.
On November 6th, before his departure for Rome, Father Tomaž met with a delegation of the European Union Corporation for Madagascar and Comoros headed by Franck Porte in order to discuss a project intended to benefit many people in need. Finally, Father General met with the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Paolo Rocco Gualtieri and then went to the airport for his return flight.
May this Jubilee Year renew us all!
By: Pierre Marie Ralahizafy, CM
Provincial Secretary Madagascar
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
Eastern Province, USA
 Cf. Ralahizafy P. M. Jérôme, « Le Vicariat Apostolique de Madagascar méridional : 1896-1955 », in Collectif, Le Christianisme dans le Sud de Madagascar. Mélanges, Ambozontany – Fianarantsoa, 1996, pp. 174-188.
 Cf. Congrégation de la Mission, Province de Madagascar, Annexe au Circulaire n°24, du 13 juillet 2017.
 Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009; volume IX:465-470; volume XI:32-33.