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Palm Sunday in Antsirabe

23/04/2009: Madagascar

By a happy coincidence I spent Palm Sunday in Antsirabe, Madagascar. I had left for this city with Br. Kalisa to animate a seminary retreat for Holy Week on the topic «community leadership».

And because of a fortunate mistake also, I went to the celebration of the Palms in the parish, thinking it would all be in French. It was all in Malgache! After some hesitation, I decided to stay. In the language of the Faith, we understand all languages. We can always sing the praises of the Lord and thank him with the people who welcome us, in their language and their culture.

I believe it is two years since I last experienced a Palm Sunday ceremony so rich and spontaneous. It was an authentic manifestation of faith. The procession began some three km from our Centre, and ended at the parish church. The crowd, which formed a winding column of about 500 m, kept on singing with great enthusiasm. The chant was accompanied by the waving of the palms, with a joy which was manifest in the praise of the Lord. Accustomed to little processions which scarcely go around the church, I thought that this one must have been very like the one which welcomed the Lord and conducted him into Jerusalem. I was the only « westerner » in this manifestation of faith, but I did not feel a stranger. It is true that there are no strangers in the Church, that the faith gathers the disciples of the Lord together in a common sentiment and a common praise. Faith transcends distances and makes all cultures fruitful.

The procession finished at the parish church of the Trinitarians. It was completely full, too small to accommodate everyone. And the people continued to sing. The people of Madagascar love to sing. I was carried along with these people, hardly noticing the moment when we reached the church. I thought that the Mass would be faster. It lasted almost two hours – three, counting the whole ceremony. Even if I did not find the ceremony long, towards the end I could not resist the temptation to look at my watch. And when all seemed finished, another chant began… During all this time I understood only three words: « Yesu, Kristy and Amén ». The language of faith surpasses understanding; I experienced a eucharist which touched my heart. The simple, but true, faith of these people reinforced and strengthened my own faith.

After the celebration, rapt in the joy and communion achieved between this welcoming people and me, I even came to think that the talks I had « learnedly » prepared for the Holy Week retreat were nothing but straw. I would like to direct a retreat where one can see all the life I had felt in the procession of the Palms and in the course of this eucharist which introduced us to the mysteries of Holy Week. Conferences, well-prepared as they may be, can lack the life and enthusiasm of a celebration which come from the depths of the heart. Things being so, I nevertheless resisted the temptation to tear them up, for the Holy Spirit can make of this « straw » good nourishment which builds and strengthens community. Such was my prayer when I returned to the house, after those three and a half hours of prayer among lively « hosannas » and the festal palms which welcomed the Saviour. Blessed the people who know how to evangelise their visitors!

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Teófilo Minga, fms
Antsirabe, 4 April 2009

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