By Devin Watkins
The Church in the island nation of Madagascar is celebrating on Saturday, as the Diocese of Morondava gets a new Co-Cathedral in the town of Miandrivazo.
The local Bishop blessed the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph on 1 May, the same day the universal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to join the faithful of Madagascar through a video message sent to mark the event.
“I congratulate you for this work that you are doing,” he said, “and I congratulate you for all the educational, social, and religious work you are doing.”
Project to promote local farmers
The Pope expressed special appreciation for a diocesan project to build a water canal to provide irrigation water for local crops.
The canal is over 50 kilometers long, and will provide water to irrigate more than 2,000 hectares of rice paddies.
Pope Francis concluded his video message by blessing the project and the new Cathedral in Miandrivazo.
“I ask St. Joseph the protect you,” he said. “I join all of you in blessing this new Cathedral. May God bless you!”
Cathedral dedicated to St. Joseph
Saturday’s celebration was presided over by Bishop Marie Fabien Raharilamboniaina, who spoke to Vatican News about the way the local community joined forces to build the Co-Cathedral.
He thanked the Pope for his fatherly gaze despite the physical distance.
“With his heart, he sees what happens thousands of kilometers away and is invisible to most eyes,” said the Bishop. “This Co-Cathedral—which was built by 200 poor stonemasons, both men and women—will allow the people to feel closer to God.”
He said the project was only possible because of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Madagascar in September 2019.
That event, said the Bishop, inspired one woman and her family to donate funds to build a health clinic and the Co-Cathedral blessed on Saturday.
“Her brother had left her an inheritance,” said Bishop Raharilamboniaina. “His name was Joseph. And the Pope has dedicated this year to St. Joseph. The neighborhood where this Co-Cathedral was built has St. Joseph as its patron.”
The Bishop-emeritus of the Diocese of Morondava is also named Joseph, who will turn 90 in June. “All these circumstances show us the will of God,” said the Bishop.
Welcoming the Gospel
Miandrivazo lies around 300 kilometers from the diocesan seat in Morondava. The Bishop said this physical distance made the local people feel distant from the Church.
Then, five years ago, the Bishop called a diocesan synod, during which the people of Miandrivazo requested a greater presence from the diocese.
The area is made up of 80 percent of people who follow ancestral religions and 15 percent of Catholics. “Yet, the animists are very open to the Gospel,” said Bishop Raharilamboniaina.
After the diocesan synod, he invited various religious orders to engage in mission in the area, with a host of congregations answering the call. These included Missionaries of La Salette, Jesuits, Montfortians, Trinitarian Fathers, Sisters of Jeanne Delanoue, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Salesian Sisters, Teresian Carmelite Missionary Sisters, Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Carmelite Fathers, Cistercian monks, Orionini Fathers, and Brothers of the Sacred Heart, besides diocesan priests.
Lively communities of faith
“They responded generously to the Pope’s appeal to go to the peripheries,” said the Bishop. “Their presence allows us to be near to these people and to strive forward in evangelizing.”
He added that there are more than 50 new Christian base communities in various villages, and only a few days ago the Bishop baptized 200 people during Mass.
“In these villages, many people have told us that they had been waiting for us for a long time,” he said.
Bishop Raharilamboniaina noted that the ongoing pandemic means the celebration was marked with a limited number of the faithful.
“This reminds us of the life of St. Joseph and Mary: the Child Jesus was born in a place on the peripheries and very few people went to see Him,” he said. “Despite the absence of huge crowds, the grace of God is present.”