Austria Meets Madagascar


Austria Meets Madagascar

Ruth Steiner

The peaceful scene was deceptive. Picturesque villages lie along the banks of the four-hundred-mile-long Pangalenes Canal, which runs parallel to the Indian Ocean along the east side of the island of Madagascar. Overloaded transport boats and narrow dugout canoes, some connected to makeshift catamarans, met us on our way to the village of Ambohitsara. We were in luck. An Italian doctor lent us her boat to enable us to reach our destination more quickly. Instead of ten hours, we needed only five hours more. In spite of this, the villagers waited for over an hour to be able to receive us with songs and dances.

People’s lives are hard. There are no roads, no permanent power supply, no supermarkets, and no quality medical care. Just as in the “good old days,” everything is done by hand and the few officials write their reports on old typewriters. Qualified personnel are lacking. In the health center, the only nurse on duty changes every few months and there are no qualified teachers in the schools.

One constant source of development and social assistance is the Church. Three Divine Word Missionaries work in the Pangalana parish: Fathers Rikhardus Jemali, Cyprien Mambu, and Mikael Yudosukmono. The parish church is in the village of Ambohitsara and there are nine outstations with sixty-three settlements. The missionaries regularly travel on foot or by boat to visit the Christian communities. Thirty percent of the population is Christian.

Everyday life is shaped by animist customs and taboos. The ban on eating pork in this area is the lesser evil. That twins are considered a bad omen and abandoned after birth, on the other hand, is viewed as cruel and inhuman from a Christian viewpoint. The missionaries persuade the families to keep their children and provide them with food. A shift in awareness is slowly taking place, in spite of the fact that the twins’ parents are no longer allowed to enter the community house where the kings (a king is head of a large family) hold their meetings and some animist rituals take place. Thank God that the children are being accepted in the society and treated like any others.

It is dark shortly after 6 p.m. At dinner, we discussed with Fr. Rikhardus, Fr. Cyprien, and Fr. Mikael the difficult situation in Madagascar, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.

We found one of their statements to be very moving: “What I love most is visiting the people in their villages.” The simple life, the hardships, and the privations do not prevent these men from proclaiming God’s love through word and deed.


Ruth Steiner and her colleague, Theresa Sacher, are responsible for mission awareness, public relations, and fundraising at the Mission Office St. Gabriel of Divine Word Missionaries in Austria. In order to make the needs of the missionaries and the people more widely known, Ruth and Theresa traveled to Madagascar from April 16–27, 2013. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the world, and Divine Word Missionaries have been serving there since 1994.

Divine Word Missionaries Magazine, Vol. LVII, No. 4 Fall 2014, issued quarterly.