Fr. Gabriel Kokon - Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the poor countries in the African continent. Political instability is perhaps, the major cause, preventing better development of the nation. This affects road infrastructure, health and education services. We work in 3 dioceses; however concentrate more in the diocese of Mananjary, since this is where we began the mission, twenty-three years ago. Our confreres work in parishes in the town as well as in remote areas. The climatic condition and diet are similar to PNG. Generally, the island is beautiful with savannah grasslands, forests, hills and mountains. So far I haven’t seen thick forests and big mountains as PNG, perhaps I might find in some areas not in the Mananjary region where I am assigned for my missionary work.
Four days after arriving at the regional house, we departed for a pilgrimage in one of our parishes, about 60 kilometers from the regional house. We left at 7:30 am and arrived at 8:00 pm, about 12-13 hours of journey. The condition of the road was worst; every 100metres we pushed the car as it got stuck in the mud. All were covered with mud, tired and hungry. At the end of this tiring journey, a confrere said to me « this is the baptism of the new missionaries » of the missionary life in Madagascar. The celebration of the pilgrimage was alive, well participated by a crowd of people and we, the new missionaries, were introduced by the bishop.
After a week, I followed the parish priest, a confrere from Poland, in a remote parish of the diocese of Mananjary, for pastoral visit. The last village that we reached was 4-5 hours walking, mostly climbing hills and mountains. As it was hot I felt thirsty, but I couldn’t find fresh water from the mountains. There was water flowing from the rocks, which seemed to be fresh and clean, however I was warned not to drink, as they were already contaminated. I took coke instead of the fresh water from the mountains. The Indonesian confrere suffered muscle crump while I encouraged him to walk slowly, since it was his first experience of climbing mountains. Fortunately, I had no problem as I am used to climbing mountains.
After the local language study, I was placed in Vohilava, in Mananjary diocese, consisting of 72 outstations and it’s one of the biggest parishes of the diocese. A Polish confrere, Fr. Czeslaw Sadecki is the parish priest and I as his assistant, do pastoral visits, three to four times a year. When we can’t use cars or motorbikes, we walk several hours from one village to another or even a day to reach the farthest outstation of the parish. At times I felt tired but the hunger and thirst of the simple people, to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion, gave me the strength and joy. In other words, their faith gave me inspiration, new strength and joy to continue the mission of Christ among them.
Life of village people is simple; they cultivate land mainly for rice however they do plant vegetables such as cabbages, beans, carrots etc... Access to better health and education services is difficult due to poor road conditions. Thus it also makes it difficult for people to sell their produce to earn sufficient income to cater for their necessities and other expenses such as school fees. Sometimes, it reminds me of life of village people in PNG; where people carry heavy loads of goods on their shoulders or heads, walk many kilometers to sell at the market and get little money for the day.
Urban life is expensive due to low economy. Goods and services are costly, fortunate are the rich people while those in (slums) settlements or those who migrate to cities or towns in search of employment, find life very difficult. As such, the unemployment rate is high, whereby few of the urban migrants find jobs.
Finally, I would say that I’m very happy with my life as a missionary priest and would like to continue the missionary work in Madagascar.