AIDS and Basketball in Madagascar

Untitled-1On my recent trip to Madagascar I was proudly led to the new basketball court in the suburb of Tanambao, Morondava. On both ends of the court kids were playing a pick-up game. The game on the south end was fast moving but the one of the north end was limping along because their ball had been pierced by a thorn and dribbling was out of the question. They were all happy to have a place to play. Before leaving Morondava, I got Bishop Donald Pelletier, M.S., to write about the basketball court and its tremendous meaning for the youth of Tanambao:

The question most often asked is: How is your AIDS situation in Madagascar and what are you doing to prevent and protect your people from AIDS? The situation in Madagascar is one of the lowest of the African Continent which doesn't mean that we can sit back and wait for it to become endemic. Having a very high rate of venereal deceases we should have a much higher percentage of AIDS. But it is very difficult to get exact figures as the government monitors all tests.

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A Celebration at Chantagone Shrine

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(left) Shrine main gate; (right) sign for the Church

Myanmar is a land of numerous pagodas. Everywhere you go, it is almost certain that you will see pagodas either on hilltop, mountainside, near villages or within cities. As pagodas are well known in Buddhism, so too our Marian Grotto is one of the recognizable trademarks of Catholicism in our country.

In almost every parish church compound you enter, it is also almost certain that you will see a grotto of Our Lady. The devotion to Our Lady is very popular among Catholics in Myanmar. Praying in front of the grotto of Our Lady is a common sight.

Grottos are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under her various titles. One of the most popular title of Our Lady is that of Lourdes. As a result, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated acros our country.

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Fr. Mike Donahue and the Handicapped

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Fr. Mike Donahue, a La Salette
Alumnus, now a priest ministering
in the Diocese of Tarija,
Bolivia with the handicapped. 

Editor: For many years, Fr. Mike Donahue served as a La Salette Missionary. While ministering in Bolivia, he decided to join the Diocese of Tarija, in the southernmost area of that country. His faith and desire to help handicapped persons led him to become involved with handicapped and special needs’ children in Bolivia. He has been active, at local and national levels, in various service projects for handicapped persons, has served as President of Friends of Handicapped Children of Tarija for many years and has received many awards for his much-needed ministry.

It's Sunday and the parishioners of the Chapel of La Loma de San Juan are prepared to witness an unusual interpretation of songs using sign language. After the sermon, Father Michael Donahue, along with the four people who are part of the group, “SAMMY”, interpret one or two songs using sign language. They all seem to hear the song coming from the sound system. Their rhythm and gestures are coordinated.

SAMMY was founded by Susana Huaylla, Deysi Miranda and Ana Patiño, who have a hearing impairment. They were joined by Yuli Miguel Garnica and Father Donahue. Some of the group have problems moving their legs but these difficulties did not prevent them from interpreting the songs and dances using signs.

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Life is a Challenge

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(left) Fr. Joe Silva with his younger
parishioners; (right) Fr. Wladyslaw
Czosnek, M.S., on a visit to a village

Mission work can be slow and difficult but usually in time progress can be measured in very tangible ways, for example, in the Ambatolahy, Madagascar district. Throughout the years its history was very much “stop and go”. At times it would have a resident priest, at other times there would be only an occasional visit from the priest and then because of shortages, no priest at all.

But times have changed. Ambatolahy now has two permanent priests. And practically every year now we have been able to bless a new chapel in the surrounding villages. First there was the village of Antjoa, then there was Janjina and now there is Ambiky. Ambikky is an important village because it is the hub for six other villages. It has no Christians yet but it does have a catechist. And as the church will serve as a school, we hope to have a Christian community there very soon.

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From Madagascar With Love

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A man resting in his pirogue on a
river near Berevo, Madagascar.

In a few days (Dec.18, 2013) I will leave Antananarivo for my Christmas ministry. This is a nine-hour road trip in a "taxi brousse" (very crowded mini-van) to Miandrivazo. There I will jump into a river barge or simple pirogue for another ten hours cruising down the Tsiribihina River, enjoying the lush vegetation and noisy animal life along the river banks – not to mention hot sun and pesky mosquitoes. I will make sure to admire and not feed the crocodiles sunning themselves on the river banks.

My ministry will allow Father Henry Kaszuba, M.S., to serve the isolated communities in the bush. Being in Berevo not only brings back memories of 1972-1976 but also gives me a rare chance to enjoy the grace of being a bush missionary once more at age 82.

Berevo is accessible only through exciting river travel so people do appreciate the visit of an old missionary who still has the folly, energy and zeal to preach the Good News to the poor. Except for my portable phone, Berevo remains a very isolated area along the Tsiribihina River. It will be a peaceful quiet Christmas with a very fervent community of poor simple peasants. It also enables me to feel very close and identify with the simplicity and poverty of Bethlehem.

2013 – A Year of Joy and Loss

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