New Chapel, Library at Madagascar Prison Drawing Inmates to Catholic Church

Bishop Georges Varkey Puthiyakulangara of the Diocese of Port-Bergé in Madagascar. Credit: ACN

The chapel at the prison of Port-Bergé located in the North of Madagascar has been witnessing a rising number of “religious conversions”, with most of them joining the Catholic Church, a Catholic Bishop in the Island country in the Indian Ocean has said.

Constructed through a partnership with the Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, the chapel that has been named after Saint Dismas, the good thief on the cross, provides pastoral care to about 200 inmates who also get to experience life outside the prison monotony.

In a report, Bishop Georges Varkey Puthiyakulangara of the Diocese of Port-Bergé told ACN International that many prisoners at Port-Bergé have been unable to read and write, and are now learning at a library that the foundation constructed alongside the chapel.

“The inmates are very happy and now they have a very nice place where they can pray and they can also get out of the prison for a while to play and even read or learn to read and write,” Bishop Puthiyakulangara says in the Friday, June 3 ACN Portugal report.

The Catholic Bishop adds, “Since many prisoners can’t read, there is a team from the Church, from the Catholic Church, from the Port-Bergé Diocese, led by Father Henryk Sawarskié, a Polish missionary.” 


In the report, the charity foundation reiterates Bishop Puthiyakulangara’s sentiments, saying, “The number of religious conversions among the prison population in Port-Bergé, Madagascar, is increasing since the Church, with the support of the ACN Foundation, was able to carry out two significant works there: the construction of a chapel and a library.”

The Indian-born Bishop who first served as Coadjutor Bishop of Port-Bergé Diocese from May 2009 before he became the Local Ordinary of the Catholic Diocese in December 2013 lauds the support of ACN at the Port-Bergé prison, saying, “Everyone appreciates the good works that Aid to the Church in Need has done for us in Port-Bergé.”

He says that authorities in Madagascar have appreciated the ACN support, and that locals, including inmates, have lauded the two prison projects.

“The minister and the secretary-general of the Ministry of Justice, and all the regional authorities were there to participate in the inauguration and the consecration of the chapel, the playground and also the library,” the Catholic Bishop says.

According to ACN, the chapel and library were the two facilities that Fr. Sawarskié, who has been ministering in Madagascar for about four decades, dreamt of the most.

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The Polish Catholic Priest was appointed chaplain of the prison in 2015 and began “a work that has proven to be extraordinary,” the Pontifical charity foundation says in the June 3 report.

Fr. Sawarskié has been lauded for improving the hygienic conditions of the prison, bringing medical care to the detainees, promoting better nutrition, always with the concern of “giving back to all the human dignity they deserve.”

“Little by little Fr. Sawarskié has witnessed many religious conversions, to the point of often saying that ‘God writes straight with crooked lines’. The construction of the chapel, which the prisoners themselves requested as something very important, and of a library, were just two of the improvements that Father Sawarskié achieved for the Port-Bergé jail,” ACN reports.

In a past interview with ACN International, Fr. Sawarskié said he found inspiration to work with prisoners after Pope Francis declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2015, the same year that Fr. Sawarskié was transferred to the Diocese of Port-Bergé.

“When I drove by a prison, I saw the prison walls topped by barbed wire, or heard people talking about it,” the Polish missionary told the global Catholic pastoral aid organization.


He added, “The Pope issued a call for corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. When I found out that the prison didn’t have any clergy, I suddenly realized that this was the place where I could best spread the mercy of God. Today I know that I myself was given this epiphany by the Merciful Jesus.”

“Christ himself teaches in the gospels, ‘I was in prison, and you came to visit me’ (Mt. 25:36). The veneration of Divine Mercy is a crucial and effective factor in the process of change and conversion. Our chapel serves this purpose,” Fr. Sawarskié said.

He added, “It stands under the patronage of Saint Dismas, the good thief on the cross, who is an example of personal change and conversion. Nothing is ever lost – you can be saved, even at the last moment, as Christ promised to the thief from the cross. ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise.’”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.