Greetings to everyone, I am Father Paul Choi Jaedo, and it’s been three years since I began my experience as a young missionnary in Madagascar. I currently live in the region of Mandritsara. By road, I am approximately nine hundred kilometetrs from the capital, Antananarivo. From the capital, it takes twenty-four hours by bus, without wasting time. It is really far ! I live as a vicar at the Holy Family Parish. The priest in charge of the parish is a Malagasy priest. Including Father Albert Alazard of the MEP, we are three priests residing in this parish.
The weight of pastoral duties
In the territory of our parish, there are 36 parish stops to visit. In Korea, even if it is a big parish, we are used to having at most two parishe stops. That just comes to show that we can feel the weight of our parish duties. But having many parish stops to go to is actually a richness, a sort of treasure from God. So today, I would like to talk to you about my experiences as a young missionnary when I visited these parishes.
How do my christians live ?
The visits of a parish stop is always a challenge for me. Each one corresponds to a village unit whose members have certain cultural specificities. Introducing them to new ideas, and at the same time respecting their culture, is no easy task for me as a stranger. That is why I plan my parish visits ahead of time, and I always have hesitations when the time comes to take action. To be honest, if all I do is simply meet the christians in well-organized locals of the parish, and build my pastoral from there, I always feel tormented. As long as I have made a personal visit at their homes, I definitely cannot pretend that I know them. How do my christians live ? What difficulties are they confronted with ? I must visit them to see for myself. This is extremely important, and each time that make a visit, I ask the Lord to give me the necessary courage. An older fellow priest told me this story : « Leaving the comfort of the parish home to go meet other people is always a challenge for me. However, everytime I visit them, each time God makes it a fruitful visit. So, you too, do not hesitate, go and meet these christians ». This story comforts me, and gives me the necessary courage. I live in the diocese of Port-Bergé where there are only 2% of christians. In the villages, this percentage is even lower. So I am always eager to meet people and pay them visits. Sometimes, I gather the people of the village to tell them of my faith. For me who is a foreigner, it worries me and makes me tremble. But the village people are so simple ! Even though I do not possess their accent, and do not know their grammar well, they listen patiently. I am grateful to them for this, and it gives me courage. Thus I share a bit of the spirit and torment of Paul the apostle when he was faced with strangers, and I am thankful for that.
The luminous expression in their look
Until now, when I visit a parish stop, I would proceed as follows : upon arriving at a parish stop, while staying in a house, I would meet the elders of the village and celebrate mass for the christians. Then, the day after, I would visit another village and do likewise. But I realised that with this method, it was not possible to truly get to know the christians. So I adopted a new strategy. I visit each family to listen to them. I realised that the christians are very happy with these visits. Through these visits to the families, I can get to know their lives more clearly : their joys as well as their sufferings. Sometimes, I begin the visits at 6 in the morning, and finish only around 2 in the afternoon. It is exhausting, but also very rewarding to see the luminous expression in the looks of the faithful. The fact that their pastor show an interest in their lives, that he prays for their family, is a source of encouragement for them. They express their gratitude. I understood that through these visits, me, the foreigner, can be more deeply welcomed in their hearts.
Madagascar is truly a gold mine. Everytime that we throw the net for harvesting, the Lord fulfills us abundantly with gifts, well beyond what we could imagine. The simple fact of tasting the fruits that the Lord allows us to see, thanks to his help and the efforts we give, is enough invitation to praise him. I have only a short experience as a young missionnary, but I can already appreciate its savor. If we give ourselves completely to the work of the Lord, he multiplies it tenfold, even a hundredfold. And there is the story of a poor young missionnary.
Father Paul Choi Jaedo, associate priest of the MEP