Associate Meeting in Madagascar



Madagascar 1Five weeks ago I returned from a sixteen day visit to Madagascar. I didn't go as a tourist, not even as a pilgrim. I went as a member of an SMR International Team.  While there I also gave two workshops on EcoSpirituality to our sisters and women in formation in two different cities where we have communities.


The team was formed by four sisters, one Spaniard , who is in Congregation leadership, one Colombian, one Malagasy, and me,  a Cuban member of our SMR  Region of the United States. Our more or less common language was French. Our task was to consider and encourage diversity and vitality among the varied groups of Associates and to assess the possibilities of encounters among persons associated with our congregation throughout the world. 


Associates of religious congregations are persons who, without religious vows, are called to live the charism of a given congregation in their everyday life. Our charism, as expressed in our 2013 General Chapter,  is to manifest the love of God in our different contexts like Mary, who by her "Yes" created space for incarnation in our history.


Why go to Madagascar? The short answer is because it is poor, far away and 73 Malagasy sisters are engaged there in all sorts of ministries to the poor. The long answer: because from its beginnings in 1857, our Congregation has been international, racially and culturally diverse.  In September 2016 our Region will experience our SMR diversity during a special event in Riverview, Michigan.  Sisters from 17 countries will join those of us who live in the United States for a week-long gathering, "Weaving Our SMR Future Together."


Our foundress, Emilie d'Oultremont d'Hooghvorst, although Belgian, opened the original house of the congregation in Paris. Her first companions were three English women, six French, and one Belgian. Two years later, eight sisters sailed from Marseilles, France to Tuticorin, South India. By the time of Emilie's death on February 22, 1878 there were 198 sisters and 92 novices. Twenty-three new houses had been established: the "mother house" in Rome, eight houses in France; one in Germany; three in Belgium; two in Spain; one each in England and Ireland; four  in Southern India; and in the Indian Ocean one on the island of Mauritius and one on the Island of Reunion. Today we are 552 sisters in twenty-one countries.


Madagascar 2We went to Madagascar in 1927.  Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, about the size of Texas, with a population of 24 million. Eighteen separate tribal groups of Malayo-Indonesian, mixed African and Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry inhabit the island. Both the British and the French colonized Madagascar. In 1960 the people gained full independence from France. The official languages are Malagasy, French, and English.


Madagascar3Madagascar is rich in minerals, largely exploited by foreign interests. The rural areas are poor, the average family plot is 1.3 hectares, dedicated mostly to subsistence agriculture. 85% of the population  live in rural areas. The main roads are well kept but the connecting routes to rural areas are unpaved for the most part. Deforestation is the main ecological problem. Trees are felled to make charcoal which is the preferred fuel for cooking, and to plant rice, the main staple of their diet. As a result, the fertile red soil of Madagascar can be observed from the Space Station "bleeding" into the Indian Ocean.


The Malagasy people are welcoming, extremely generous, resilient, intelligent, and full of joy which they express in song and dance.  During my time among our sisters the gifts of sisterhood, solidarity, and compassion were given and received.  At the end of our time together we were richer as a result of all the conversations and shared experiences.


I returned home with a head full of cornrows gift of two of my sisters!

Concepción González Cánovas, smr