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Mauritius, The Catholic Church in


A volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, the Republic of Mauritius is located in South Africa, 500 miles east of Madagascar. The main island is joined politically to the Agalega Islands, the Cardgados Carajos Shoals, and Rodriguez, the last located 350 miles to the east of Mauritius. Containing a central plateau falling from steep hills to flat coastal lava formations that have weathered into fertile plains, the region has agricultural crops that include tea, fruits and vegetables, and sugar cane. In addition to arable land, fish is another important resource. The region contains little or no mineral wealth.

Mauritius was discovered by the Portuguese in 1505 and was occupied by the Dutch from 1638 until 1710.

The French claimed the island in 1715, and it came under British control from 1810 until it gained independence as part of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1968. Since gaining political autonomy, the region has become in creasingly industrialized, and by 2000 it had one of the highest per capita income levels in Africa.

After the region came under French control, vincentians evangelized the native tribes living in Mauritius from 1722 to 1819. At that point Port Louis became the center of an immense vicariate entrusted to the Benedictines that embraced Australia, South Africa, and Madagascar until 1837, and also the Seychelles Islands and Saint Helena until 1852. Bishop Collier, the third vicar apostolic, was eminent for his organizing ability. He was responsible for the arrival of Jacques Laval of the Holy Ghost Fathers, whose work among the enfranchised slaves gained him the title "Peter Claver of modern times." Port Louis became a diocese in 1847, and almost all the vicars apostolic and bishops were Benedictines until 1916, when the diocese was confided to the holyghost fathers. Jesuit missionaries worked principally among the native tribes and after an increase in immigration from Asia and India, Chinese secular priests labored among their own compatriots. Pope John Paul II visited Mauritius in October of 1989.

By 2000 there were 49 parishes tended by 57 diocesan and 30 religious priests. Over 25 Christian Brothers and six communities totaling over 270 sistersone community of native origindirected the region's Catholic schools and tended to other social service needs. Under the 1968 constitution, the Church benefited financially from government subsidies in proportion to its members and like all other religions was accorded tax-free status. While Catholic life remained active, tensions between the Hindu majority and members of both the Church and Mauritius' Muslim population existed, resulting in rioting in February of 1999. An interreligious council was formed by the government later that year, in an effort to promote understanding among ethnic/religious groups. Many Chinese, while Buddhist, also practice the Catholic faith, a result of their attendance at the island's Catholic schools.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde (Tournai 1964) 2:603605. Annuario Pontificio has information on the diocese.

[j. bouchaud/eds.]

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