For this week’s saint we are going to be looking a part of the world and the Church that probably does not get much attention. For today’s story we will spin the globe and drop our finger on the west African island of Madagascar. I doubt for many of us that Madagascar is the first place to come to mind when thinking about great stories and people in the Church. However, that is the very reason we should take the time to learn about our brothers and sisters there. The Church is much wider and deeper than the “greats” we are familiar with. With that said, let’s dig in.
This week’s saint is Victoire Rasoamanarivo and she is remembered on August 21st.
Victoire was born in the city of Antananarivo on Madgascar in 1848. She was raised by her uncle and grew up practicing the animist religion of her ancestors. She was related to a wealthy family and many served in the ruling class of people. Victoire started attended a Catholic school at the age of 13 and was baptized at the age of 15. While Victoire wanted to devote her life to the church and probably serve as a nun, her family organized a marriage. She consented to her family’s wishes and got married in 1864. By all accounts, the wedding was not a pleasant one. Victoire’s husband was a violent drunk and his relation to the leading military family allowed him much freedom to act as he pleased. While many urged her to divorce, she refused because of her belief that marriage was a sacrament for life. Victoire chose instead to constantly prayer for her husbands repentance and conversion.
In 1883 a war broke out between the French and ruling party of Madagascar, often called the Franco-Malagasy war. France had made many political and military moves in Madagascar trying to gain an economic foothold in the region. Because of France’s actions, the people of Madagascar began to turn against the Catholic church on the island. When France was threatening war, all foreign Catholic priests and missionaries were expelled, Catholic schools were ordered to be shut down and Catholic gatherings were outlawed. Any practicing Catholic was ordered to renounce their faith or otherwise be considered traitors. The war between France and the ruling family of Madagascar lasted from 1883 through 1885. During this time, many local Catholics, including Victoire, refused to renounce and continued to meet in secrecy in the closed and boarded up churches. Victoire specifically worked to keep the schools open and would even openly confront and resist the police who would try to keep them from gathering for church services. When the war ended in 1885 and the foreign missionaries and priests returned to the island, they found a still thriving church community of about 21,000 members. Because of the work and fearlessness of Victoire in spite of the violent war and hatred against Catholics at the time, the church continued to thrive. Victoire was proclaimed the “guardian” of the church on Madagascar and she continued to work with the poor, sick and imprisoned until her death in 1894.
May we, in spite of political and economic turmoil, remain faithful to the Church like Victoire Rasoamanarivo. May we realize that the Church can thrive regardless of politics, war, gender, race or economic status. I pray that our eyes would be opened to see leaders and guardians of the church in the places we might least expect it. May Victoire Rasoamanarivo open our eyes to the strength in the diversity of the Church.