MADAGASCAR: Island Bishop warns of encroaching Islamism

Bishop Vella distributes holy communion.
Bishop Vella distributes holy communion.

Islamic missionaries in Madagascar are exploiting the people’s crippling poverty to make converts, a local bishop has warned.

Speaking on the eve of Pope Francis’s three-day visit to the island, which begins today (Friday, 6th September), Bishop Rosario Vella of Moramanga told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that aggressive Islamist proselytism is being carried out, especially in the north.

He said: “There are plans, supported from abroad, to Islamise many parts of Madagascar.

“Recently I visited villages located in the woodlands of the Diocese of Ambanja and there are numerous mosques under construction, without there being any Islamic faithful.”

Bishop Vella said that the poverty of the Malagasay people was being exploited to make converts.

“We bishops are concerned because people convert to Islam after having been pressured or with the promise of economic incentives.”

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost half of the island’s children suffer from malnourishment – despite the country’s rich mineral resources.

Bishop Vella said: “There are families that do not even have the money to care for their children and this is unacceptable”.

According to the UN World Food Programme, 90 percent of the island’s 25 million inhabitants live on less than US$2 per day.

The bishop stressed that the Church is providing care for the struggling Malagasay people.

He said: “If people need treatment, they come to our clinics… the parents send their children with faith to the schools we have set up even in the most remote villages.

“And then each parish manages projects related to agriculture or health care programmes that benefit the faithful of all religions.

“The Catholic Church here has always been the only point of reference for everyone.”

Bishop Vella added: “The aid that comes to us from bodies like ACN is truly invaluable and allows us to carry out our work”.

ACN has announced that it will be marking Pope Francis’ trip to Madagascar – which comes 30 years after Saint Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island – with a series of projects supporting the local Church.

Original interview with Bishop Rosario Vella by Marta Petrosillo.

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