Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 09/Part 04

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The Arrival of Two Priests of the Congregation of the Mission in Madagascar, and Their Initial Activities

The French quarter of Madagascar is a section of the island near the latitude of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is called in the language of the country Histolangar, and a fort has been built there called Fort Dauphin. [1] The two priests, Fathers Nacquart and Gondree, after a long voyage of six and a half months, happily came ashore on December 4, 1648. The French there received them with great joy, and participated with much devotion in singing a Te Deum and at the solemn mass of thanksgiving. It had been nearly five months since they had been able to have mass.

One of the first concerns upon their arrival was to look to the spiritual care of the French themselves, and to help them profit from the Jubilee. They then applied themselves to studying the language of the country, which proved very difficult. The interpreters and intermediaries could not find words appropriate to explain the virtues and mysteries of our faith in a country where matters of religion are never discussed.

As soon as they could stammer a few words of the language they began to instruct the natives. They found much greater docility among the blacks than among the light-skinned, who thought of themselves as sufficiently informed and preferred not even to listen when matters of the faith were discussed. If they listened at all, they did so merely through curiosity, with no intention of being taught or converted.

Six days after his arrival Monsieur Nacquart heard of one of the lords of the island named Andiam Ramach. [2] In his youth had visited Goa and had lived there for three years. He learned from this man himself that he had been baptized and instructed in our holy religion. To prove his point he made three signs of the cross, and recited the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Creed in the Portuguese language. This led Monsieur Nacquart to ask if he might not teach these same truths to his subjects, and help them to pray to God, just as Monsieur Ramach had done.

The response to this request was favorable, and the lord agreed to attend the sessions himself, together with the leading men of the region who stated that they were well pleased that their children were receiving instruction. All this obliged this good missionary to apply himself even more diligently to the study of the native language, to profit from such a favorable opportunity for the propagation of our holy religion among these poor infidels.

On the following feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the call of the gentiles to the faith, Monsieur Nacquart and his companion began to baptize several children. Monsieur de Falcourt, governor of Fort Dauphin, offered to be the godfather of the first child baptized. He named him Peter, as the first spiritual stone in the Church beginning to be built on this island.

Continuing to study the language, and gaining a little fluency, they began to travel from place to place to teach those they found disposed to listen. On Sundays they would present a sort of catechism lesson to the youth of the country.

One day, on returning to their usual place of residence, the French fort, they met one of the chiefs of a small village who had fallen sick. He begged the missionaries to come to his house, to pray to God for his cure. Monsieur Nacquart explained to him that God often allowed sickness of the body to bring about the salvation of souls. In any case, he added, God was powerful enough and good enough to cure him, if he would leave his superstitions and give himself to God in professing the true faith. He asked on the spot if he might be taught this true religion. Monsieur Nacquart assembled all the people of the village, so that they too might profit from his instruction of the sick man. In their presence he explained through an interpreter the most important and most necessary articles of the faith.

The sick man listened attentively to the instruction. He said his heart was consoled to hear this message, and that he believed all he had heard. He asked if Jesus Christ was truly powerful enough to restore his health. Yes, the missionary replied, provided you believe with all your heart, and your soul is cleansed from all sin by baptism, and provided you will accept from divine Goodness just what he will be pleased to send you. At once the sick man had a child bring water, and insisted the priest baptize him at once.

Fearing that he sought the health of the body more than that of the soul (as was seen later to be the case) Monsieur Nacquart thought best to defer the sacrament. He said that the patient must prove that his resolution to serve God and become a Christian was truly sincere. This would be shown, if after his return to good health, which he sincerely hoped the Lord would grant, he would have his entire family instructed in the faith. The wife of the sick man was present for this exchange. She told of how, long before the French arrived on the scene, she had prayed to God. She told how once while working at the rice harvest, she was moved to raise her eyes to heaven, saying to God: "You cause the rice I harvest to grow and to mature. If you have need of it, I shall give it to you. I would want to give some to whomever has need of it." This shows how even amid the darkness of infidelity God allows some ray of his grace to fall upon people to prepare them to know and to serve him.

All those who attended the instruction of the sick man showed their satisfaction with all they had heard. They judged this knowledge more precious than gold or silver, which could be taken from them by force while no one could deprive them of the gift of knowing and serving God. After this, Monsieur Nacquart and his confrere bade farewell. They left the sick man with hope of a cure and the others with the expectation of being more fully taught in the future. [3]


  1. Now called Tolagnaro.
  2. Andriandramaka.
  3. CED III:564-565, Nacquart's lengthy report, summarized by Abelly.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Nine, Part Four
The Arrival of Two Priests of the Congregation of the Mission in Madagascar, and Their Initial Activities

Index of this section:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Nine Index:
On the Mission to the Isle of Saint Lawrence, Otherwise Known as Madagascar

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two