The Rt Revd Dr Oliver Simon was consecrated the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of Antsiranana by the Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean , the Most Revd Ian Ernest and the Diocesan Bishops at St Matthew's Cathedral Antsiranana on 19 Feb 2012.
Bishop Oliver during his visit in 2013
from the Hills of the North – Antsiranana in Madagascar
Hello. This is the twenty fifth newsletter for those who have expressed an interest in keeping in touch with my experiences and activities as a Bishop in northern Madagascar. If you would rather not receive this please tell me. I won’t be offended. Equally if there are others who would like to see this please pass it on!
+Oliver, 22 March 2014
On getting back to Diego after several weeks absence there were things to catch up with:
Visites de Courtoisie.
I went to the see the new Chef de Region de Diana, Colonel Maevalaza. He listed his priorities:
- Rural development – tree planting
- Three Northern regions working together: ‘partnership’ was a theme which he also addressed in his International Women’s Day speech on 8 March
- Col Maevalaza appreciated my suggestion that he should send us requests for prayer
- Inevitably we talked about the road!
I also went to see the new Roman Catholic Archbishop, Mgr RAMAROSON Benjamin Marc - but I told you about that visit in Newsletter no 24
Some good news
Sunday 9 March was a good day; we celebrated the inauguration of the new dedication of what had been the old cathedral of St Matio - and they had rebelliously stuck to the dedication. Now the grace of God there are some new winds blowing. After the liturgy we repaired to the Foyer of the new cathedral for some refreshments. 'Cocktails' are soft fizzy drinks and nibbles. There is a sprite of enterprise afoot at St. John' s. At some stage in the past the Mothers' Union built a rather substantial shop front on the front of the church - exploiting its road side location. However the fracturing of relationships has meant that this has never flourished. I think I rather encouraged what seemed to be a waste of potential - my hope was that perhaps the MU could do something now. So I was surprised when I arrived for the inauguration to find the 'gargotte' freshly painted as an outlet for the questionable but very popular Chinese medicines. On enquiry I was told that I had approved this!!
Next day, however . . .
Over the same weekend I found myself dealing with something more difficult and darker. Our newly installed Dean and Vicar General has been living apart from his wife since 2005, I understand. Now his estranged wife has petitioned for a divorce. I like the Dean, indeed he seemed to me to one of a limited number of our clergy who could fulfil this responsibility. So I was sympathetically supportive when I heard of his situation and called his colleagues at the cathedral together to explain the situation. What I was not prepared for was the revelation that the Dean had taken a housekeeper - actually the public message was that she was his niece. 'The Public' however are not deceived. Clearly his innocence was compromised and I have had to suspend him.
At the end of the last newsletter I mentioned that there has been an abundance of rain this year. The countryside is wonderfully verdant, vegetation bursting out. It's a sight to behold. All too soon the green will give way to browns as the landscape dries out. However the effect on the roads - roads? - is less attractive. My plan B for getting over to the east coast for the first of what have now become annual clergy conferences was a compromise. I was able to get to Sambava by plane in the middle of the month; and the young priest I'd invited to lead our clergy conferences was also able use the plane to get there. But the only realistic way of moving across the diocese to Ambilobe where the Diana clergy were gathering was to travel that road, Route National 5a. – Route Nationale! Fleurot had said he had taken 5 days to make the 100 miles. (I learned that he was able to get back to Tana by air from Antalaha - student rate.) We were evidently more fortunate; 4 - 5 hours by taxi brousse on a good road covered the 150 kms from Sambava to Vohémar where we spent the night. It would have been better if the 4 x 4 to Ambilobe had left at 6.30am the following day as suggested, but these things rarely happen it seems. Two and a half hours later we did set off. The vehicle needed a push to kick start it, and I noticed we had no windscreen wipers. 'Clapped out' would not be entirely an inappropriate description. But when you see what these old warhorses have to contend with that is an ungenerous way of putting it. The time it takes, especially in the rainy season, is compounded by a number of factors; the state of the road, the state of the vehicle - on this journey we stopped twice to repair the accelerator cable which broke, then the steering wheel had to be reconnected to the front wheels by the use of some cord; the effect of other breakdowns, especially huge lorries which often block the route, and the weather. So all told it was both a relief and a matter of thanksgiving when we rolled into Ambilobe some 29 hours after leaving Vohémar.
The rév Juliot Pez Raobison (Pez) is a priest of the diocese of Fianarantsoa who has completed a Masters’ degree at the Catholic University in Tana with a thesis on the treatment of money (vola) in the bible. He’s an energetic young man who brought a good deal of esprit to his sessions with our clergy. So far as I can gather this seems to have been a good piece of training and I am particularly pleased that it is ‘home grown’, that we’ve been able to value local training and benefit from its fruits. Pez would love to find the funding to do a doctorate. If you’d like to read his memoire, which is in French, I can send it to you. Part of might almost be called a tradition is that during a final liturgy I wash the feet of the clergy and others who are present and someone has generous washed mine. Then we renew our ministerial vows and commitments to one another.
I leave for Tana on 24 March and the 25th for Nairobi to join the other bishops. The Malagasy bishops are going on ahead because they need Visas for Israel which seem to be available in Nairobi - let's hope so. Bp Todd is masterminding all these arrangements. Then when the party has assembled - Archbishop Ian is coming with Bp James via the Seychelles - we set off via Addis Ababa for Tel Aviv, arriving before 4.00am on the 29th. The return involves getting to Tel Aviv for a flight at 1.00am on 9th April returning via Adis to Nairobi where fortunately we are granted a night stopover before heading back to Tana, where for me there is another night stopover and then to Diego, getting back in time for Holy Week.
Given the disruption at the Cathedral it’s providential that I am here for Holy Week and Easter for the first time. After Easter attention will be on the Archbishop's visit to the diocese and the episcopal election. We are awaiting the official notice from the Archbishop about the candidates. I shall be surprised if there aren’t three, but I’d better not say more!
My 'pet' lizard has become two. I wonder what is going on under the kitchen cooker? I suppose all will be revealed in due course. Fortunately the lizards are not subject to my episcopal jurisdiction. Nor are they greatly interested in the season immigration of ants, though they do seem to look at them from time to time.
Our deputies have been in town.
We have two representatives in the National Assembly, Freddie Mahazoasy and Jocelyne Maxime Rahelihanta. Our local fortnightly, La Tribune de Diego (which recently celebrated its centenary) reported on their visits. M. Freddie focused on economic development and security. “Malgaches n’ont besoin que d’argent . . et donc d’investisseurs” he apparently declared. Oh dear! Jocelyne Maxime is evidently much more flamboyant. She is a darling of the previous transitional president who came to support her in the hustings. Now she has been elected a Vice-President of the National Assembly as a member of the ex-president’s support party MAPAR. The Tribune article said, “It should be said that Jocelyne Maxime Rahelihanta doesn’t do things by halves”. Her visit was marked by various offerings: 3 sacks of rice and a cow for the organizing committee of the International Women’s Day which this year was focused on the town of Ambanja which is 250 kms south of Diego. So she also made available 3 taxi-brousses and 2 4 x 4s to transport people there. In M Freddie’s case, “13 zebus and three sacks of rice were offered” – the article doesn’t make it clear that it was his offering alone. Clearly being a deputy doesn’t come cheap.
Meanwhile, nationally, there seems no sign of the end of the impasse within the National Assembly over which political group has the majority to declare to the President who should the Prime Minister. In a thoroughly Malagasy fashion a love of detail obscures the bigger picture. The new Constitution of the 4th Republic, for which the transitional government is responsible, says that the majority group in the National Assembly has the right to nominate the Prime Minister. ‘But’, ask the nitpickers, ‘what size should the majority be?’ The Constitution doesn’t say, though elsewhere it says that a two-third majority is required to dissolve parliament. The previous prime minister, Jean Omer Beriziky, is continuing to run things on a day to day basis, as are the other ministers. The new President is busy establishing his international credentials. He has been to the United States where he visited the UN and met Ban Ki Moon and the International Monetary Fund. In anticipation, the IMF announced that it was resuming its links with Madagascar which had been broken following the 2009 coup. According to L’Express de Madagascar, Rajoanarimampianina is playing it cool and not trying to force the issue. He is happy to let those who are in government get on with things. Others say that he hasn’t much option.
Pointers for Prayer
- for the new President and the political situation here in Madagascar
- for our continuing journey towards the election of the Coadjutor Bishop
- for our visit to Israel and for a developing sense of companionship among the bishops of the Province
- for our efforts to embed sustainability into the life of the church
- for ecumenical relations and for Archbishop Benjamin, the new Roman Catholic Archbishop
- for my stamina, good health and a sense of humour
- and for those who hold us in their prayers; our partners in this work.
May we all in the midst of our various businesses find space for that deeping of faith for which the season of Lent is particularly marked out. And may our celebrations of Easter, Christ is risen! be inspired with the sense of what a difference that makes.
Rt Revd Dr Oliver Simon