During a recent visit to the headquarters of the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Cardinal Désiré Tsarahazana, Archbishop of Toamasina, Madagascar, insisted on the need to hold on to hope, so as to overcome evil. In this interview with ACN the Cardinal speaks of how corruption, but also lack of education and civility, are having a negative effect on his country.
How would you describe the current situation of the Church in Madagascar?
There are many Christians. Most of the dioceses are seeing an increase in the Christian faith, and churches are full. However, I should also mention that ours is a country of great contrasts. We have many resources, but the country is deteriorating. And so, we have to ask ourselves if we are really Christians, if we are living as Jesus taught us, in service to others. This contrast, this difference, worries me. There are Christians, but we need to go deeper in the faith. The faith has to be really lived, and not just practiced outwardly. If we live as Jesus teaches, then we can develop better.
You say the situation in the country is deteriorating. What would you say are the reasons for this deterioration?
There is a deterioration that is mostly linked to corruption. Many people want to enter politics so as to get rich as quickly as possible. There is also lack of education and civility because much of the deterioration is not economic, but social. The two are connected. If there is corruption, there is injustice; where there is injustice, there is no peace.
How do you think corruption can be overcome in the country?
Hope is essential. When one falls into despair, one loses the energy to do something to change the situation, especially when one is suffering. But if one has hope that things might improve one day, courage and bravery follow. We cannot let ourselves be overcome by despair, by evil. We must trust in the Lord, otherwise we might think why do good, if the rest of the world is doing things badly? But we must work to do good, and the Lord will do the rest.
What do you believe were the main fruits of the Papal visit in 2019?
The Pope came to give hope. Many people come to ask me for advice on what to do with their lives, and with the situation in the country. The Pope’s visit strengthened the people’s desire to face their daily challenges. In my case, it helped me strengthen my commitment to work for good. We have grown used to the faith. It is easy to get used to going to Mass, for example. But it is crucial to understand what it means to be truly Christian. One has to be fully convinced of one’s faith, to discover the need to pray, to come into contact with the Lord, with God. Our faith has to go further than what we are used to, we need to discover how we really need the faith. The Pope’s visit was an encouragement to rekindle our hope.
The population is generally very poor. Besides this, the country has been rocked by several natural disasters in recent years. How has this affected the Church’s pastoral mission?
These catastrophes, the cyclones, the floods, have definitely made the poverty of the population worse. This is something we have all been worried about. However, we have tried to work as a team, the dioceses that have not been too badly affected have been supporting those that suffered more from these catastrophes. In these circumstances we have been living solidarity and love.
Other African countries have suffered from violence committed in the name of religion. Has this happened in Madagascar as well?
We have not had any religious violence in our country. There has been a rise in the construction of mosques in several places, but the relationship between Christians and Muslims is good, there is no violence, no hate, we live together. However, we don’t know what might happen if the number of Muslims in the country continues to increase. Extremists could come from other places, as has happened in other African countries, where there have been cases of violence against Christians.
What sort of help has ACN been providing?
We have received a lot of help, such as 4×4 vehicles and motorcycles. Most of the churches in this country are very isolated. The priests often have to go to distant places to celebrate Mass and give catechism classes. Sometimes they have to walk two or three days to serve some communities. I have done this myself, walking for three days, though I can’t do it any longer. We have also received aid to set up radio communication that helps us with formation in the faith, and this is something for which we are very grateful. We hope that this help continues, so that we can have all our dioceses covered by radio.
I thank ACN with all my heart, and all the benefactors for the help they have given us. Through your faith, we have been able to sustain our own. We continue to pray for you every day. God bless you, and accompany you, and may the love of Christ stay with us.