The Madagascar Church's historic

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A Christian church comes to life as a result of a people discovering the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accepting it. It has therefore to be announced in order to avail it to acceptance.

It was during the 16th Century that Portuguese Christians entered first in contact with Madagascar. It was only one hundred years later that the Jesuit missionaries brought the Gospel to Malagasy people (1613 – 1630) though. Preaching did not have immediate echoes.  Lazariste

After 1648, the Lazarists’ efforts in Tolagnaro and Anosy were countered by the French colonizers’ harshness; French colonizers with whom they had to live. A little Christian community has immersed though and a Malagasy catechism book was edited in 1657 only to disappear in 1674. The attempts to reintroduce Christianity during the 18th Century were washed away by colonizers’ will to maintain slave trade.



The French revolution and Napoleon’s war have resulted in Great Britain conquering Mauritius Island (1810). Governor Farquhar‘s ambitions added to Radama I ‘s will to open up his kingdom (Antananarivo) to foreign techniques have given possibilities to preach the Gospel.         

The Congregation missionaries’ members from the London Missionary Society (LMS) called in as teachers have quickly developed a school network where Christian texts served as reading tools in the Imerina region. Malagasy biblical texts were first printed in 1827.

Ranavalona1Under the reign of Ranavalona I, who was nationalist but also school promoter, the first local Christians were baptized and received first communion (1831). Quickly, with her impetuous counselors, the queen found out the danger that Christianity represented for the sacred (local religion), which was the basis of her power. In 1835, preaching and practicing Christianity was forbidden to Malagasy people. But when they left, the missionaries could leave translated bibles. In spite of 3 waves of prosecution, the remaining Christians, faithful to Christianity would find in the translated bible spiritual food and would continue to preach the words of God during 25 years of illegality.

Freedom to preach the Gospel

Radama II

In 1861, with Radama II’s accession, preaching Christianity became again allowed. While thousands of protestant Christians uncovered, the Jesuit fathers and the Saint Joseph de Cluny sisters settled in the capital and opened new schools: it was where they brought the first Catholics to be baptized. In 1866, they got assistance from the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes.

Apart from confessional divergence, the “mission” got caught into the rivalry between French and English. Consequently, the whole policy set up by the Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony aimed at maintaining a balance between the two powers.  Thus, when the queen and himself were baptized protestant in 1869, Protestantism received strong support from the government but religious freedom was kept. The small catholic community was spread down to the Betsileo region thanks to father Pinaz assisted by Pierre Ratsimba, the future director of the teachers’ school. There, as well as in Imerina School and church show the same characteristics.



Hard times

Then very difficult times came due to confrontations between the two confessions. But it was also a period for going further into faith. In April 1883, while Father Basilide Rahidy, the very first Malagasy priest died, by the end of May, the first war RaphaelRafiringabetween Malagasy and French broke out. It led to the expulsion of missionaries. The young Catholic community remained with brother Raphaël Rafiringa Victoire Rasoamanarivo(FEC) and the young people from the Union Catholique (Catholic union). There was also the discreet but very efficient patronage of Victoire Rasoamanarivo, daughter in law of the prime Minister and a very deep Christian. When the missionaries came back with their apostolic vicar, Bishop Cazet, they found the “lay church” lively and well structured. During the eight following years, the number of baptized people doubled.         

The second war (1894 – 1895) ended up with the power in the hands of a colonial government, which stopped all initiatives from laymen.  Seeing French coming in, some priests thought Catholicism would finally take revenge. But, even if Gallieni, an agnostic, had the intention to give foreign missionary importance, he rather favoreds the settlement of the Mission protestante française (French Protestant Mission) and imposed strict neutrality in order to calm confessional conflict. On the other hand, his militant anticlerical successor, V Augagneur, destroyed a great number of missionary schools, depriving education to more than 100 000 children.

Sharing the fields of work

Since a long time, the unique Bishop, Lord Cazet has wanted to share the working field. It was only in 1896 that the Lazaristes arrived in the South. The spiritains settled in the North in 1898 whereas the Vakinankaratra region was left to the care of the Salettes fathers in 1899 and the Betsileo region was under the care of the Jesuit coming from the North of France (1901). The Providence, The filles de Marie, the franciscaines Missionnaires de Marie sisters settled at the same time, bringing in new forms of religious life. In the coastal regions, all was still to be done in the field of Gospel preaching. Extension on the field depended on the arrival of new missionaries. The same principle applied to schools. In the south, the very lively family structures remained tight. But the Christians’ internal migration within the high lands has contributed in founding new Christian communities. These communities were sometimes composed by missionaries only and sometimes they were mixed with local population.

The 1913 decree on religions regulation has put an end to the arbitrary of the Administration.  But the colonial system was suspicious about the various churches, specially the Protestant church, which was thought to keep nationalism into Malagasy people’s mind.  A secret movement aiming at awaking awareness (VVS) was discovered on Christmas 1915 during the World War.  Pastors and Malagasy religious, suspected of being the instigators, were arrested. The 1916 trial cleared them from suspicion but their arrest and the suspicions against them meant much.

The beginnings of the Malagasy clergy

Clerge malgache

In Antananarivo, a grand Seminar opened in 1917 and whereas there had only 5 malagasy priests in 50 years, 9 were received ordination in 1925. It was the beginning of the local clergy. Most of the members were from the inside land and their activities would little by little give orientation to the church’s life.  Between the 1st and the 2nd World War, the missions got extended and slowly covered the whole territory. The number of vicariate increase and since 1932 the bishops meets yearly. In 1939, the Miarinarivo Vicariate was given to the care of Bishop Ignace Ramarosandratana, the 1st Malagasy bishop. The Carmélites, Réparatrices, bénédictines carried in the testimony of contemplative life.  By the protestant’s clan, on could see a unitary dynasty whereas on the Catholic side relationships were almost nonexistent.

France’s defeat in 1940 brought the Vichy government in power. The Government then broke up with republican secularity and gave grant to confessional schools and authorized religious teaching in public schools: many clergymen and laymen became devoted to Pétain. But with the British disembarkment in May 1942, the occupation of Lîle and the birth of secret societies (Jiny, Panama), France becoming free and the harsh participation to the war, the progressive return of Malagasy soldiers stuck in France during the war have put colonization into question and ended to the 1947 insurrection.  It constituted a tragic time for the patriots and the populations involved into the fight. The Church underwent much destructions but It kept on working for reconciliation and for the reorientation of its perspectives. The national priests increased in number and were given responsibilities. With the assistance of the Centre inter – diocésain (inter diocesan Centre) formation for Christian militants has become a priority for an island going toward independence; independence for which the Bishops granted legitimacy to the non violent efforts provided (November 1953). The proclamation of the Republic in 1958 and the independence in 1960, the appointment of Malagasy Bishops in Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa coincided with the beginning of the Council of the Vatican II, where the church’s self conscious would be renewed and where what already was happening would be made explicit and where new lines of action would be provided.

Fr Bruno Hübch