Vohipeno is a district center of Madagascar’s southeastern region and is located in the diocese of Farafangana, 42km from Manakara, the nearest town. An exceptional event took place in this village of more than 10,000 inhabitants. In three days, Vohipeno watched its population quadruple! Why? No words can properly describe this event that took place on Sunday, April 15, 2018. This day has seen crowds converging not only from the four corners of the island but even the world, a mass of people composed of Catholics, non-Catholics, religious, non-religious, believers, non-believers, politicians on all sides, from journalists eager for sensational news or those who were just curious… More than 80,000 people gathered in Vohipeno so that they would not miss a milestone event in all the history of this capital of the country, Antemoro, already well known by historians and anthropologists accustomed to historical events… However, there has never been a beatification in the region!
At the entrance to Vohipeno is a small hill of Tanjomoha. It was there that Father Deguise, a Lazarist (Vincentian) who became a monk, chose to live as a hermit. He was the first Postulator of the cause of Lucien Botovasoa in the time of the first Bishop of the Farafangana Diocese, Monsignor Chilouet, CM (1964) at Tanjomoha. Whether by grace or coincidence, it is this same hill where, 50 years later, organizers chose to celebrate the beatification of Lucien Botovasoa.
For these 80 000 pilgrims Tanjomoha hill became a real “Mount Tabor” (the mountain of the Transfiguration, Mark 9). Why? For a few hours during the Beatification celebration of Lucien Botovasoa, the pilgrims experienced what the three disciples experienced at Mount Tabor during the transfiguration of Our Lord. Like Peter, everyone had a very intense moment and nobody wanted to leave… It was a real Pentecost too… Hearts were burning on hearing the beautiful homily of Cardinal Piat, the Pope’s Legate, participating in the beautiful songs and together following the well-paced liturgical gestures. Like the disciples of Emmaus who, after having met the risen Lord, returned to Jerusalem to announce the joy of Easter, these crowds are now happy to have been touched by grace. After having seen the wonders of God, they wish everyone to be together; in the wake of the new Blessed Lucien Botovasoa, now they too desire to be peacemakers and reconcilers. And, why not? Why not be called to be witnesses to justice and truth? …. At this moment the country needs it so much!
But who is Lucien Botovasoa, the new Blessed? Let’s just go back to the official presentation. Those who want to have more details can refer to the beautiful book of François Noiret, the Vice-Postulator published by Editions de St Paul d’Antananarivo (there’s both a Malagasy version and a French version). There is also a cartoon graphic strip (see photo).
“Lucien was born in 1908 in Vohipeno (Madagascar, Vatovavy Fitovinany region); he was baptized at 14 years old. Dying at age 39, he lived all his life as a Christian, a father, a Catholic teacher, and a committed Franciscan tertiary. He gave his all to the Lord and to others as a true apostle of charity and faith. But the summit of this life was the “crown of martyrdom” on April 17, 1947, when, during the unrest that broke out during the War of Independence, Lucien demonstrated his unending search for reconciliation.
Although he was not a writer, his life is a “book written in the light of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus”.
His martyrdom, like that of all Christians throughout the ages since Saint Stephen, imitates Jesus’ passion. All that Jesus lived from the Roman courts to Golgotha, we find almost to the letter in the story of our own Blessed’s martyrdom. I quote only this prayer that he pronounced before dying: “O God, forgive my brothers who are here, because they now have a very difficult duty to fulfill regarding me. (Andriamanitra O Mamela ireto rahalahiko ireto fa sarotra aminyizao adidy ataony amiko izao.) Indeed, like Saint Stephen’s prayer, Lucien’s prayer Lucien was “powerful”, since it brought about the conversion of Tsimihino, the King who had promulgated the death sentence.
Lucien is the one who lived out the real battle, the fight against those evils that eat away at our societies: jealousy, pride and human respect (henamaso) that hides the truth in the face of one’s neighbors so as not to destroy their good favor (ny fihavanana ); and it is these same evils which prevent the true development of our Nation.
What especially characterized Lucien’s martyrdom was his love for his compatriots and his persecutors. He has been called Rabefihavanana (the Reconciler).
+ Marc Benjamin Ramaroson, CM
25 April 2018
The Solemnity of St. Mark, Evangelist
Translation from French into English by Dan Paul Borlik, CM, Western Province, USA