By Fr. Albert Mamonjisoa, SVD
I am blessed to be the very first Malagasy (native of Madagascar) Divine Word Missionary Priest, and I am 46 years old. I work in one of the SVD parishes in the diocese of Fianarantsoa here in Madagascar as an assistant parish priest. As an SVD priest, my main job is to be in charge of the office of the SVD “mission secretary” in the Madagascar region. A key task of that SVD office is to foster awareness of the call to mission.
The four SVD characteristic dimensions are kind of like the order’s mission DNA. They help guide leaders as they determine where Divine Word Missionaries will serve. For me personally, I feel that the four characteristic dimensions call us all as sons and daughters of St. Arnold Janssen to cooperate and coordinate while on mission.
Inviting lay partners
Mission Animation is important for me because it invites me to focus on the role of the laity in the church and for the church. Lay people are also baptized and so, they are the church’s missionaries as well, mandated to bring the good news of God’s kingdom to all. In addition to that, if we want the church to be alive and active, we should welcome initiatives and activities that promote involvement from lay people because they make up the majority the church’s membership. Without lay people who are well instructed and animated, the church is paralyzed and sick. That is why Mission Animation is so important.
In doing Mission Animation, there are a lot of challenges. One of the main challenges is the question of how to translate the Gospel’s message into today’s language and way of thinking. Through Mission Animation, we are there with the lay people to understand and share the message of Christ in a way they can understand and relate to. We should know how to preserve that message, meaning to work with them to keep it alive and not to imprison it. That’s not an easy task for us. It’s really very challenging to each and every one of us. Another challenge of Mission Animation is the question of time – nowadays, everyone is in a hurry and this generation cannot support any more tasks or long meetings in their lives. Everyone is rushed and they want instant responses. On the other hand, teaching and instructing people cannot be done quickly or in a rash way. It takes time and care because we are dealing with human beings.
Building a foundation
Here in Madagascar, our mission is still in what we could consider “primary evangelization.” Most of our efforts aim at founding new Christian communities and at assuring their religious and spiritual growth, thanks to constant visits in close collaboration with lay people, especially catechists. The poverty rate in Madagascar is still very high because it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. Consequently, although the advantages of technology already exist in this world, people here don’t even know that such a thing exists. We are totally ignorant about the use of technology. As a matter of fact, we don’t even have electricity in many areas. So, I do believe that the mission in Madagascar is very different in all levels and aspects than some parts of the world, especially in countries that are already developed –like the USA. The general poverty in Madagascar constitutes an immense challenge for Divine Word Missionaries here. Most of the Malagasy people think that being a Catholic missionary means being financially rich and they expect material or financial support from us as they do with some NGO agents.
Without electricity in many areas, primary teaching is done outdoors wherever it is convenient to gather.
For now, we missionaries in Madagascar aren’t dealing with the influence of atheism or secularism yet, but it’s a reality that is painful for us as missionaries. In my point of view, there are so many reasons why people become inactive Catholics. Some become disinterested in the Church, others are only vaguely aware and still others are unhappy with their current relationship to the Church. In addition, there are also people who are angry, hurt or feel estranged or rejected because of a hurtful personal experience, marital status, or because of theological differences.
For me, I see the four characteristic dimensions of the SVD as an invitation to teamwork. They help us understand how to work together in harmony with SVD confreres in charge of the other three characteristic dimensions: Biblical Apostolate, Communication and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).