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Salesians in Madagascar Battling Poverty, Illiteracy, Witchcraft in Evangelization Mission

Fr. Giovanni Corselli of the Salesians of Don Bosco working in Madagascar

Poverty, a retrogressive culture that does not support education as well as lack of exposure to the outside world are some of the factors that stand in the way of evangelization for members of the members of the Religious Institution of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) who are ministering in Ankililoaka, a region covered by the Catholic Diocese of Moramanga, Southwest of Madagascar.

Fr. Giovanni Corselli, SDB member who has been ministering in the Indian Ocean Island country for about 40 years says that missionaries in the country also battle ancestral cults and taboos, which set people back every day.

“In its social structure, the population preserves many characteristics of village life,” Fr. Giovanni says in the report published by Agenzia Fides, and adds, “Most of the people have maintained the traditions of their ancestors and ancestral cults with taboos, traditional beliefs and the presence of witches who guide the lives of the people.”

The Italian-born SDB Cleric further says that the people’s beliefs, added the Coronavirus pandemic that continues to wreak havoc in the country, is making living unbearable for many people.  

Agenzia Fides reports that currently,

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Four Brothers who are SDB members are dedicated to helping the people who live in abject poverty in areas such as hospitality, health services, education, and above all, hope.

Fr. Giovanni says that the main problem that the people in the region who rely on farming face is the lack of water.

“The rains have decreased considerably and for an agricultural population that expects everything from the rains, it is problematic to make ends meet,” the Priest says the news report, and adds, “This year, it hardly rained.”

He narrates that the last thing that parents think about is the education of their children since, he says, the parents “do not even think about it, as their attention is focused on the most essential things.”

Despite the presence and use of social media, Fr. Giovanni says, the population is not very open to the outside world.

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This isolation, the SDB member explains, creates challenges for the missionaries who are focused on education and evangelization, with the help of social media.

“That is why we try to get children to study, educate their parents and, indirectly, direct them to profitable activities of various kinds so that they are autonomous,” he says.

In Ankililoaka, the SDB Missionaries run 14 primary schools in the villages with a school population of 2,599 pupils and a large middle school and high school with about 750 pupils.

In addition, the Missionaries work with the Trinitarian Sisters of Valenza who run a dispensary and a primary and nursery school with about 700 students.

“It is important for us to be close to people, always,” Fr. Giovanni writes to Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide.

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“In our community, we strive to carry out a work of evangelization and human promotion, trying to educate young people and the population to work together, help each other, stimulating them to reflect and search for their autonomy,” he says.

The 78-year-old Cleric says that in places he has ministered on the world’s second-largest Island nation, he has learnt that the Church, especially the Missionaries, are the closest to the most vulnerable.

"Wherever I have worked… I have been able to verify that we are a point of reference for the people and that we must help them, encourage them, support them so that little by little, it reaches a sufficient degree of autonomy, even if the state does nothing for the moment and the people do not trust state structures,” says Fr. Giovanni.

He adds, “We do not get discouraged and we entrust ourselves to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary Help of Christians and even if progress is very slow and many times it seems that we are going backwards, we continue to fight and encourage the population.”