Madagascar, The Catholic Church in
MADAGASCAR, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The fourth largest island in the world (excluding Australia), the Republic of Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean, 260 miles east of mozambique in Africa. The terrain alternates between plateaus and mountains, rising to the volcanic Ankaratra range near the island's center, thence to the highest point, the Tsaratanana Massif, in the north. Many streams cross the forested inland terrain, while Madagascar's coastline is dotted by numerous small islands. Natural resources include graphite, mica, chromite, salt and bauxite, while agricultural products consist of rice, sweet potatoes, tobacco, coffee, sugar and cloves. The climate, which is tropical near the eastern coast, is characterized by cyclones and heavy rains.
Formerly known as the Malagasy Republic, Madagascar was formed by federated kingdoms and remained
under Portuguese domination until the 17th century, when it was formed into a native empire. During the 19th century, English and French interests battled for the region. Three years after the succession of the last native monarch, Queen Rànavàlona III, in 1883, French forces laid claim to certain coastal areas, establishing a protectorate in 1890 and annexing the island and its dependencies as a colony in 1896. Madagascar became an autonomous member of the French Community in 1958 and an independent republic in 1960.
History. Detached from Africa as a result of continental drift, the island of Madagascar was originally inhabited by Indo-Melanesian and Malay peoples, while Bantu, Arab, Indian and Chinese immigrated to the island between the 10th and 14th centuries. Madagascar was discovered by Portuguese Captain Diego Dias in 1500 and was named by Marco Polo after the island kingdom of Mogadisho he described but never visited. From 1500 until mid-18th century Catholic missionaries, especially the Vincentians from 1648, made futile attempts at evangelization, their efforts disrupted due to pirate activity along the coast. Bishop Henri de Solages, the prefect apostolic, labored for a few years with little success until his death in 1832. Despite continued hostility from the monarch of the region's most populous and powerful tribe, the Hova, who was influenced by English Protestants, the Jesuits arrived in 1845 and penetrated to the capital city of Antananarive. In 1850 the Jesuits were entrusted with the Prefecture Apostolic of Madagascar, which became a vicariate apostolic in 1885, after the region had been proclaimed a French colony.
During her reign, Queen Rànavàlona I actively persecuted Catholics and other Christians, expelling foreign missionaries and putting many Catholics to death. Her own death in 1861 brought the Protestant King Rànavàlona II to power and finally permitted open evangelization throughout the island. In 1885 and 1895 wars between native tribes and French troops interrupted the mission, but otherwise evangelization progressed without interruption, missionaries often attempting to assimilate facets of native religions into the Catholic faith to make it more understandable. In 1896, a year before the monarchy of Rànavàlona II was abolished, the southern part of
the island was detached and confided to the Vincentians as the Vicariate of Southern Madagascar. The Vicariate of Northern Madagascar, created in 1898, was given to the Holy Ghost Fathers. Other religious active in the region included Trinitarians, La Salette Missionaries, Montfort Fathers, Capuchins, Holy Family Fathers and Assumptionists.
By 1900 there were nearly 100,000 Catholics living on the island. After World War I and the reorganization of the island's political administration, more vicariates were created and entrusted to various religious orders. The first nine Malagasy priests were ordained in 1925, and the first native bishop was consecrated in 1936. A rebellion that broke out in 1947 in response to Madagascar's entry into the French Union had little effect on the missions, and agitation for independence likewise did little to stir up anti-Catholic sentiments. The hierarchy was established in 1955, with Antananarive as the sole metropolitan see. A reorganization in 1958 divided the island into three ecclesiastical provinces, with the capital city entrusted to the Jesuits. After the region gained political independence from France on June 26, 1960, and became the Malagasy Republic, a special apostolic delegation was created for Madagascar and the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. The region was renamed Madagascar in 1975.
Evangelization on the island continued to be successful throughout the 20th century, and men and women found their vocation in the Church in increasing numbers. During the second half of the 20th century, the island was beset by economic problems that resulted in several changes in governments and a decaying infrastructure. In the 1980s and 1990s the Church added its voice to those advocating that President Didier Ratsiraka focus his attention on social programs. Although Ratsiraka abolished one-party rule in 1990 and established free elections two years later, the political climate continued to be volatile; a period of rioting resulted in the abolishment of the country's national assembly and a new constitution in August of 1992 that protected freedom of religion. In
February of 1997 Ratsiraka resumed the presidency, promising to continue efforts to stabilize Madagascar's sagging economy. In April of 2000 Ratsiraka responded to a call by Church leaders and released 3,000 Madagascar prisoners—many of them minors or men and women over age 65—as a response to Pope John Paul II's plea that the plight of prisoners be considered during Jubilee 2000. The country's bishops praised the president's effort as a "significant gesture of reconciliation for the Holy Year."
By 2000 there were 379 secular and 581 religious priests, 392 brothers and 3,363 sisters on Madagascar, a preponderance of whom were native Malagasy. The Catholic schools located throughout the island included 2,209 Primary and 316 secondary schools, while religious also administered orphanages and other humanitarian concerns. The Benedictines and the Cisterians each had a monastery. In addition to a strong Catholic press, the lay movement Catholic Action remained involved in its grass-roots humanitarian efforts. The influence of the Church was most marked in the southern part of the island, and it continued to wield political influence due to its strong humanitarian presence and its status as one of Madagascar's largest landowners. The Protestant population on Madagascar consisted of members of the Church of Jesus Christ, located in Fianarantsoa North.
Bibliography: h. deschamps, Histoire de Madagascar (Paris 1960). k. s. latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 v. (New York 1937–45) v.5. Le missioni cattoliche: Storia, geographia, statistica (Rome 1950) 196–202. a. boudou, Les Jésuites à Madagascar au XIX e siècle, 2 v. (Paris 1943). Bilan du Monde, 2:574–58 I. Annuario Pontificio has statistics on all dioceses.