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Treatment of the island

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Madagascar.—On the second day of March, 1500, a fleet of thirteen ships, commanded by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, sailed from Lisbon to explore the Indian Ocean. On August 10, one vessel of this fleet, commanded by Diego Dias, having been parted from the rest by stress of weather, came in sight of a point of land on the east coast of a large island. To this island the name of St. Lawrence was given, the day of its discovery being the feast of that martyr; it is now the island of Madagascar, situated to the southeast of Africa, between 11° 57′ 30″ and 25° 38′ 55″ S. latitude, and between 43° 10′ and 50° 25′ East long. Many small islands of less importance are adjacent to it in the Indian Ocean and the Mozambique Channel, the principal being St. Mary, Mayotte, and Nossi-Be.

The island of Madagascar is, on the whole, very thinly populated, the population averaging little more than thirteen to the square mile; but this population is unequally distributed, dense in the central regions and sparse in other parts. The principal ethnological divisions are the Hova, the Betsileo, the Sakalava, the Betsimisaraka, the Sihamaka, the Antaimoro, the Antanosy. Since the French conquest of the island these various peoples, or tribes, have been distributed in provinces, circuits, anjl districts, all under the administration of a governor-general who resides at the capital, Tananarivo. Divers opinions have been put forward by the learned as to the origin of the peoples of Madagascar. M. Alfred Grandidier, who is an acknowledged authority in such matters, thinks, and the greater number of anthropologists think with him, that this population is of the black Indonesian race, and is therefore one of the chief groups of the Malayo-Polynesian countries. Malagasy (the native language) seems to be related to the Malayo-Polynesian languages, is, like them, agglutinative, and has a gram-mar apparently based on general principles analogous to theirs. It is very rich on the material and physical side, and poor in the expression of abstract ideas.

The religion of the Malagasies appears to be fundamentally a kind of mixed Monotheism, under the form of a Fetishism which finds expression in numerous superstitious practices of which these people are very tenacious. Even those who have received Christian instruction and baptism retain a tendency to be guided, in the various circumstances of their lives, rather by these superstitious prescriptions than by the dictates of reason and faith. They admit the existence of the soul, but without, apparently, forming any very exact notion of it; in their conception, it is not so much a spirit made in the image of the Creator as a double of the man, only more subtile than the visible corporeal man. The Malagasy is naturally prone to lying, cupidity, and sexual immorality, which is for him so far from being a detestable vice that parents are the first to introduce their children to debauchery. This immorality and the lack of stability and fidelity in marriage are the great obstacles to the development of the family and of the Christian religion in Madagascar.

The first priests to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Madagascar after the discovery of the island, came with the Portuguese. Old documents mention religious who, about the year 1540, accompanied a colony of emigrants to the southeastern part of the island, where they were all massacred together during the celebration of a feast. Then again, about 1585, Frey Joao de S. Thorne, a Dominican, appears to have been poisoned on the coast of the island. In the seventeenth century two Jesuits came from Goa with Ramaka, the young son of the King of Anosy. This youth had been taken away, in 1615, by a Portuguese ship, to Goa, where the viceroy had entrusted him to the care of the Jesuits; he had been instructed and baptized. Ramaka’s father permitted these two Jesuits to preach Christianity in his dominions. But soon, when they were beginning to wield some power for good, the king, instigated by his ombiasy (sorcerers) forbade his subjects to either give or sell anything whatsoever to the fathers. One of the two died, but the other succeeded in returning to India. Some years after this, the Lazarists, sent by St. Vincent de Paul, essayed to conquer Madagascar for the Faith. The Societe de l’Orient had then recently taken possession, in the name of France, of a tract of territory on the southeastern litoral, and had named its principal establishment Fort-Dauphin. The first superior of this Lazarist mission was M. Nacquart; he left France with the Sieur de Flacourt, who represented the Societe de l’Orient, and one of his associates, M. Gondree. Arriving at Fort-Dauphin in December 1648, M. Nacquart devoted himself most zealously, amid difficulties of every kind, to the evangelization of the natives, until he was carried off by a fever, May 29, 1650. M. Gondree had died the year before. During these fourteen months of apostolate seventy-seven persons had received baptism. It was not until four years later that MM. Mounier and Bourdaise came to continue the missionary work which had been initiated at such cost; but they, too, succumbed to the severity of their task. A reinforcement of three missionaries sent to their assistance never reached them; one died at sea, the other two on the island of St. Mary, where they had landed. Nevertheless, St. Vincent de Paul was not discouraged.

In 1663, M. Almeras, the successor of St. Vincent de Paul in the government of the Congregation of St. Lazare, obtained the appointment of M. Etienne as prefect Apostolic and sent him to Fort-Dauphin with two of his brethren and some workmen. On Christmas Day M. Etienne baptized fifteen little children and four adults. But it was not long before he, too, fell a victim to his zeal. On March 7, 1665, four new missionaries set out, and on January 7, 1667, they were followed by five priests and four lay brothers, with two Recollet fathers. But in 1671, the Compagnie des Indes, which had succeeded to the Societe de l’Orient, having resolved to quit Madagascar, M. Jolly, M. Almeras’ successor, recalled his missionaries. Only two out of thirty-seven who had been sent to the island, were able to return to France, in June, 1676 all the rest had died in harness. From the forced abandonment of the Madagascar mission in 1674 until the middle of the nineteenth century, there were only a few isolated attempts, at long intervals, to resume the evangelization of the great African Island: we may mention those of M. Noinville de Glefier, of the Missions Etrangeres of Paris, and of the Lazarists Monet and Durocher. The last-named even sent some natives to the Propaganda Seminary at Rome with the view of training them for the apostolate in their own country.

In 1832 MM. de Solages and Dalmond laid the first foundations of the new Madagascar Mission. But by this time some English Methodists, supported by the Government of their country, had already succeeded in establishing themselves in the center of the island. The Rev. Mr. Jones had obtained authorization from the Court of Imerina to open a school at Tananarivb, the capital. Other English Protestant missionaries followed him, and by 1830 they had thirty-two schools in Imerina, with four thousand pupils. When, moreover, it was learned at Tananarivo that the new prefect Apostolic, M. de Solages, a Catholic priest, was on his way to the capital, everything was done to arrest his progress, and he died of misery and grief at Andovoranto. M. Dalmond took up the work begun by M. de Solages. After preaching the Gospel in the small islands off the coast until about 1843, he returned to France in order to recruit a large missionary force. The aid which he so much needed he obtained from Father Roothan, the general of the Jesuits, who authorized him to take six fathers or brothers from the Lyons province. Two priests from the Holy Ghost Seminary went with them. After a fruitless attempt at Saint-Augustin, the Jesuit fathers set themselves to evangelize the adjacent islands of St. Mary, Nossi-Be, and Mayotte. Assisted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, they also made earnest efforts towards the instruction and education of the Malagasy boys and girls in the island of Reunion (or Bourbon). They did not, however, by any means lose sight of the great island, and again endeavored to establish themselves on its littoral, but were once more compelled to abandon their brave enterprise.

It was only in 1855 that Pere Finaz, disguised, and under an assumed name, was able to penetrate as far as the capital. “At last”, he exclaimed in the joy of his heart, “I am at Tananarivo, of which I take possession in the name of Catholicism.” Waiting for the time when he should be able to freely announce the Gospel to the Hova, he used all his efforts to prolong his stay at the capital without arousing suspicion, making himself useful and agreeable to the queen and the great personages of the realm. He sent up a balloon before the awe-stricken populace assembled in the holy place of Mahamasina; he contrived theatrical performances on a stage constructed and set by himself; he made them a telegraphic apparatus, a miniature railroad, and other things wonderful in their eyes. Meanwhile, Fathers Jouen and Weber, under assumed names, joined Father Finaz at Tananarivo, coming as assistants to a surgeon, Dr. Milhet-Fontarabie, who had been summoned from Reunion by the Queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona I, to perform a rhinoplastic operation on one of her favorites. But this state of affairs was not to last long; Ranavalona soon grew suspicious and ordered the expulsion of the few Europeans who resided at Tananarivo. The fathers, however, had managed, during their brief stay at the capital, to conciliate the favor of the heir presumptive, Ranavalona’s son. And so it was that, in 1861, when this same prince, on the death of his mother, succeeded to the throne as Radama II, Fathers Jouen and Weber could return to Tananarivo, bringing with them a small contingent of Jesuit fathers and Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, and without being obliged, this time, to dissemble their object in coming. Radama II gave full authorization for the teaching of the Catholic religion in his dominions; and this much having been conceded to the French Catholic missionaries, similar concessions had to be made to the English Protestants of the London Missionary Society. What with the large subventions furnished by this organization to its emissaries, and the clever maneuvers of some of them—particularly of Mr. Ellis—after the tragic death of Radama II, the English missionaries acquired considerable influence with the new queen, Rasoherina, and her chief adviser, Rainilaiarivony, to the detriment of the Catholic missionaries. The latter, moreover, were few in number—six fathers and five lay brothers at Tananarivo, with two small schools for boys and one, under the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, for girls; and at Tamatave, three fathers, one lay brother, and two sisters. Nevertheless, in spite of all difficulties, the number of neophytes increased, and, especially after the arrival of the Christian Brothers in 1866, the schools took on fresh vigor. Already four parishes were in operation within the capital city, and the missionaries thought of extending their efforts outside. Father Finaz opened the missionary station at Antanetibe on September 12, 1868; by the end of 1869, thirty-eight groups of neophytes had been formed, twenty-two chapels built, and twenty-five schools opened. Betsileo was occupied in 1871, then Ampositra and Vakinankaratra. A propaganda periodical, “Resaka”, was founded. A leper-house was built to receive about one hundred patients. The sisters gave care and remedies to the large numbers who daily applied at their dispensary. A fine large cathedral of cut stone was erected in the center of Tananarivo. When the war between France and the Hova broke out in 1883, the Catholic mission numbered 44 priests, 19 lay brothers, 8 Brothers of the Christian Schools, 20 Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (besides 3 native postulants and 3 novices), 346 native male, and 181 native female, teachers, 20,000 pupils, a laity amounting to 80,000, 152 churches and 120 chapels completed, and 11 churches and 43 chapels in course of construction. In the year ending July, 1882, there were 1161 baptisms of adults, 1882 infant baptisms, 55,406 confessions, 580 first communions, 45,466 ordinary communions, 860 confirmations, and 190 marriages. Sir Gore Jones, a British admiral, whose testimony cannot be suspected of favorable bias, declared in 1883, in a report to his Government after a visit to the island made by its orders, that the Catholic missionaries, “working silently in Madagascar”, were planting in that land “a tree far superior to all others”.

On May 17, 1883, Admiral Pierre took possession of Majunga in the name of France, and on June 11 of Tamatave. A formal order of the queen expelled all the Catholic missionaries’ and all French citizens. “Do not resist the queen’s word”, was the answer of the more responsible among the native Catholics when the fathers consulted them as to the course to be pursued. “To do so would be to compromise our future and, perhaps, to. bring upon us more serious misfortunes. If you submit now, you will the more easily return later on.” They left the center of the island—at the same time leaving the native Catholics to their own resources—and went down to the coast. For two years, more or less, while hostilities lasted, the Malagasy Catholics, left without priests, were able to maintain their religion—thanks to the devotion and energy of Victoire Rasoamanarivo, a lady related to the prime minister, of the native Brother Raphael of the Congregation of the Christian Schools, and of some members of the Catholic Union. This organization, consisting of young Malagasies, shows a truly wonderful zeal in their efforts to make up for the absence of the fathers. Both in the city parishes and at the country stations they made themselves ubiquitous, instructing and encouraging the neophytes. At Tananarivo they sang the choral parts of high Mass every Sunday, just as if the priest had been at the altar; and the native Government, compelled to admire their fidelity, permitted this exercise of devotion. On the first Sunday after the departure of the fathers, when the Catholics attempting to enter the cathedral were warned away, Rasoamanarivo said to the guards at the door: “If you must have blood, begin by shedding mine; but fear shall not keep us from assembling for prayer.” After that she entered, followed by all the faithful. The Franco-Hova struggle came to an end, and the missionaries returned to resume their work. Madagascar, until then a prefecture Apostolic, was made a vicariate under its former prefect, who became a titular bishop, Msgr. J. B. Cazet. Under his wise and firm administration the mission continued to progress. After a visit to the island, in 1892, the Rev. Kenelm Vaughan, an English priest, was most favorably impressed by the mission work he saw.

In 1894 there was a new rupture between the French Republic and the Court of Tananarivo. The French missionaries once more had to abandon their work, which then included one college, 9 normal schools, 443 schools and mission stations, 83 churches, 287 chapels, 2 leper-houses, an observatory, a printing press, and various workshops. The staff of the mission comprised: one bishop (the vicar Apostolic), 72 priests, 4 scholastics (one of them a Malagasy), 17 lay brothers, 16 Brothers of the Christian Schools, 29 Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, 819 native teachers of both sexes. There were 26,839 pupils and 136,175 converts, of whom 41,133 had been baptized. During the military operations a great many of the Catholic missionaries served as chaplains in the expeditionary corps, and several paid for their devotedness with their lives. After the conquest came the insurrection of the Tahavalo, in which Father Berthieu sacrificed his life for his Christians, whom he would not forsake: he was barbarously slaughtered by the insurgents. But his blood was the seed of progress for the mission: in 1897 it counted something like thrice as many adherents and pupils in its schools as it had before the war. As to the question whether all these new converts to the Faith were sincerely convinced, it must be said that the number of defections tends to show the existence of political or other human motives. Many converts went over to Catholicism as they would have gone over to Protestantism had England conquered the island, or as some went over to Methodism when the prime minister and the queen, by their adherence to it, made that a sort of state religion.

In any case Msgr. Cazet was no longer able to sustain the burden of his vast and heavy responsibility for the whole island. At his petition, two new vicariates Apostolic were created. That of Southern Madagascar, extending from the twenty-second parallel of south latitude to the southern extremity of the island, was entrusted to the Lazarists, who, under Msgr. Crouzet, resumed the work of their brethren after an interruption of 200 years. That of Northern Madagascar, extending from the northern extremity to the eighteenth parallel, was given to the fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, under Msgr. Corbet. Msgr. Cazet kept the territory between 18° and 22° S. latitude, forming the Vicariate of Central Madagascar. In view of the development of his more densely populated vicariate and, consequently, of its needs, Msgr. Cazet asked and obtained the help of the Missionary Fathers of Our Lady of La Salette and the Sisters of Providence of Corenc, to whom he committed the Vakinankavatra district, while Betsileo was confided to the Jesuits of the Champagne province. Msgr. Henry de Saune was appointed his coadjutor.

In the meantime the Protestants also have multiplied. To the missionaries and material resources of the London Missionary Society have, for some time past, been added those of the Friends’ Foreign Mission Association and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Norwegian Mission, the Norwegian Lutheran Mission of America, (United Church); also those of the Free Church and, lastly, of the Societe des Missions Evangeliques of Paris. At present (1906) these different societies number about 115 representatives, men and women, in Madagascar, while the working staff of the three Catholic vicariates exceeds 300. Nevertheless about nine-tenths of the inhabitants of Madagascar remain pagans. Progress is slow owing to the perplexity arising from a variety of Christian sects. To any pagan the spectacle of Christian preachers attributing contradictory doctrines to the same Master must prove confusing.


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