Vatican City, 28 March 2014 (VIS) – The vitality of the Church in Madagascar despite the difficult circumstances in which this country finds itself and the commitment of the dioceses to human development were some of the central issues in the message Pope Francis addressed to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Madagascar at the end of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit.
The Pope thanks the prelates for their “courageous and tenacious work of evangelisation” and acknowledged the serious socio-economic problems encountered in Madagascar, mentioning at the same time that the bishops have urged all of society to contribute to building a new future”. He encouraged them to take their rightful place in the “task of reconstruction, with respect for the rights and duties of each person”. He writes, “It is important to maintain constructive relationships with the authorities of your country. You must search for unity, justice and peace to better serve your people, refusing any involvement in political disputes at the expense of the common good”.
“In this context, I wish to acknowledge the invaluable commitment of your dioceses in social work”, he continues. “Indeed, there is an intimate connection between evangelisation and human development. ... I encourage you to persevere in your attention to the poor and materially and spiritually supporting those who devote themselves to them, especially religious congregations, whom I thank with all my heart for their dedication and for their authentic witness to Christ's love for all men. I also invite you to call out without fear to all Malagasy society, and especially its leaders, with regard to the issue of poverty, which is largely due to corruption and lack of attention to the common good”.
Education is field in which the Church is very active in Madagascar. Therefore, the Pope asks the prelates to do everything in their power to “ensure that the greatest number of children, including those from the poorest families, have access to education, since as a result of economic difficulties many parents no longer have the economic means”. He also urges them to guarantee a Christian presence in public schools, so that Christians occupied in the field of education may “contribute to forming the Gospel and human values in the young generations that will be the leaders of the society to come”.
He goes on to mention that in their message for the end of the Year of Faith the bishops complained of the loss of the true “fihavanana”, a way of life typical of Malgasy culture, which promotes harmony and solidarity, and in relation to this he affirms that “the values that the Creator has instilled in your culture must continue to be transmitted, illuminated from within by the message of the Gospel. The dignity of the human person and the culture of peace, dialogue and reconciliation will find their place in society, leading to a better future”.
The Pope praises the implementation in dioceses throughout Madagascar of “an ambitious and very dynamic programme of formation for life and love”, and emphasises that the family “needs to be protected and defended so that it so that it may offer society the service expected of it, that of providing men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony”. With regard to challenges in the field of interreligious dialogue, he repeats that it is “urgent to develop, and also at times to initiate, a lucid and constructive dialogue in order to maintain peace between communities and to promote the common good”. He urges the prelates “never to doubt the strength of the Gospel, nor its ability to convert hearts to the resurrected Christ”, reiterating that for this to happen, “it is necessary that Christians bear daily witness to the faith they proclaim”, and for this witness to be credible, “life must be consistent with faith”.
“This invitation”, he continues, “is directed mainly at the clergy and consecrated persons. The priesthood, like consecrated life, is not a means of social climbing, but rather a service to God and to man”. Likewise, he remarks that chastity and obedience are essential virtues for priests and concludes, “The same applies with respect to temporal goods and prudence in their management. Offering a poor example in this area is particularly disastrous because of the scandal it causes, especially before a population that lives in poverty”.