From Madagascar With Love

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

The much younger Fr. Donald
Pelletier, M.S., going out to visit
a village in his Jeep.

I plan to celebrate the New Year in Morondava, very thankful for the many graces and events of 2013. As I look back, I would hope that 2014 will see me slowing down somewhat in my travels. This year did open up in Attleboro with many visits in January (California) and Mission appeals in Montreal. As I was getting ready to return to Madagascar, I was held up by my brother Roger's death and then a snow storm that closed down Logan for two days.

February 2013 will remain most memorable as both Roger and Paul were called home to heaven, creating a deep painful void in my life, leaving me with precious memories of these two brothers in my life. Their absence still brings a deep longing in my heart.

But then three months of new ministry here in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, kept me very busy as not only I had to adapt to seminary life but had to be available and accompany 15 young men from 8 different countries in their quest for a more intense spiritual life.

Bp. Pelletier ordains five La Salettes to
the Priesthood on May 18, 2013, in
the Basilica of the La Salette Shrine
in Dębowiec, Poland.

In May I enjoyed a very rich experience in Poland where I ordained five of our Polish priests while visiting many historical sights. A few days in Paris, Nantes, the Loire Valley and I had three months of enjoyable and fruitful ministry at the Holy Mountain of La Salette in the French Alps. This is most challenging ministry – meeting pilgrims who come here seeking God and a time of silence and prayer.

After a week’s vacation with friends at La Tour du Pin, another weekend in Paris and I was back in Attleboro for a month of visits and medical check-ups. The La Salette community there really shows great love and warm hospitality, so much so that I would be most comfortable staying there – but the Father has other plans for me.

Poverty and Need in Antananarivo

October saw me back here at our seminary in Antananarivo. Capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo is probably the dirtiest, most chaotic, messiest city in the world – not to say in addition to where the greatest poverty is found. In a few months the traffic jams will be so bogged down that traffic will come to a complete halt.

An overview of the capital city, Antananarivo,
with its requisite soccer (football) stadium.

Aside from scooters and motorbikes, walking has become the best and only way to get around this city. But then the narrow pot-holed sidewalks are filled with merchants so walking is not much faster.

Needless to say, I am not very happy with the city even though our seminary is a modern spacious villa with very comfortable accommodations. A drastic contrast with the dirt, filth and rotting garbage of Antananarivo. It would break your heart to see children and old women scrounging in garbage bins while have to fight off the hungry dogs.

The poverty here is unbelievable and we do need a political Messiah to make things better. Finally elections are being held with little chance of change though we can always hope. With the filth, mud and dirty water there is imminent danger of serious outbreaks of various illnesses. Two cases of the Plague have been certified by the Institute Pasteur.

My Plans for 2014

Women lay out their laundry to
dry on the banks of the river.

So I will celebrate Christmas in Berevo while welcoming the New Year in Morondava with our La Salette Community. Back here in Antananarivo I will continue my duties as Spiritual director at the seminary. After elections we shall see if the country can bounce back after five years of a corrupt transitional government.

In June I plan to return to the Holy Mountain of La Salette for a month as chaplain. Then in July and August I should be helping our Central Mission Office in St. Louis by doing Mission Appeals in various parishes of New England. After a medical update, I should be coming back here to Madagascar. So you see I have much to look forward to in 2014.

A Christmas Footnote

With Pope Francis, there is certainly a renewed interest in Christ and new energy in preaching the Good News. I pray that all of us can open our hearts and lives to the Love that was made flesh in Bethlehem. Best wishes of good health and peace to you and your families for the New Year of Our Lord, 2014.

A map of central Madagascar; travel in Madagascar from the east to
the west shore is about 300 miles as the crow flies. However the roads are
most often primitive and challenging. Travelers, including missionaries,
must always be ready for the unexpected.