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Small steps toward the Church
09/08/2011 Madagascar

It is a pleasure for me to share with you our Oblate missionary life in the mission of Marolambo. It is made up of five sectors: Ambohimilanja, South Andonabe, Betampona, Sahakevo, and Mangabe, with an established parish in Marolambo. We also have a development center, under the patronage of Brother KOWALCZYK, for the youth of the area.

Within our Oblate community, we are five Oblates (four priests and a Brother) who work here, each with his own responsibility: one missionary is appointed pastor and superior of our Oblate community. At the same time, he is in charge of the sector of Ambohimilanja which is made up of thirty local churches, not to mention the young laity movement of the parish. Another, who was just ordained on May 29, 2011, has been put in charge of two sectors: Betampona and Mangabe. Thanks to his impressive talent as a musician, he works with the choir and the altar servers of the parish. One of us takes care of a sector located north of Marolambo: South Andonabe. In our parish, he is primarily responsible for the Eucharistic movement for children and youth.

As for me, I am in charge of a sector called Sahakevo. This place is located 80 km from our Oblate community. There is no other way of getting there than on foot, staff in hand. Thanks to all the Montfortian and Oblate missionaries who had worked there courageously, the fruits are abundant, not to mention the construction of a big chapel for the center which branches out to 49 local churches. Greatly thanks to them, many pagans are becoming Christians. For my part, with much work, I am trying to continue what they did, since presently, the number of faithful is growing. This chapel is becoming very small since every Sunday, the Christians of Sahakevo and all the surrounding areas come here in great numbers. As for the big feasts (Christmas, Easter), we can count on more than three thousand Christians.

How do the people live? In general, when one speaks of Betsimisaraka, they all live a very simple life and are warmly hospitable. One could say that it is an extraordinary life, for they all have a house in the village, but their daily life continues to take place in the forest for farming and raising livestock. They come together in the village only for big events: a death, the new year and independence day celebrations, and certain Christian feasts. They come to church every Sunday. What surprises me is that when one passes through the village, there is no one around except two guardians. If there is an alarm or some danger, they blow a whistle to warn the village people. A few minutes later, everyone is there. Furthermore, if there is a state circular demanding some sort of service or there are officials in person, they carry them to another village.

As far as our ministry is concerned, how do the people live? One could classify them into three categories: some of them are very devout; there are some who believe that God is very powerful, but they also worship other gods; and there are those who are simply pagans. When the priest wants to visit them, he must send the program ahead at least a month in advance in order to prepare them. Then, they are all there to see the priest and to receive the sacraments. In order to become Christians, the catechists teach them the faith and prepare them for the sacraments. Therefore, collaboration with the laity is necessary and very efficacious: that is why the pagans are taking small steps toward the Church and many have become Christians. Thanks to the Gospel, several of them have had the courage to take on a responsibility in their own church. The mission in our sectors is not easy, but thanks to personal prayer, all is well. (Fr. Alfred ZANDRY in Écho OMI Madagascar, July 2011)