In a country where deforestation is a deep wound in creation, Father Alexander Dahe, a Divine Word Missionary, presents each family that celebrates a Baptism, a Confirmation or a marriage, with five saplings to plant in the land of the parish or in their own fields. He asks them to take care of their growth just as they care for their own spiritual journey.
In Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is the diocese of Mananjary, which is in the western part of the island, facing the Indian Ocean. The parish priest of Mahatsinjo parish, Father Alexander Dahe, a Divine Word Missionary who has lived on the island for around twenty years, decided with his parishioners to repopulate the environment and educate people to respect creation. In what way? With a simple system and the beauty of small gestures that everyone can perform such as planting a tree.
Madagascar is one of the islands in the world containing the most flora and fauna but deforestation caused by forest fires and unskilled interventions by man and his herds of cattle that destroy everything they come to, is a problem. Using a portion of land donated to the parish, father Alexander began to plant trees. Acacias, fir trees, eucalyptus trees and some species that grow only on the island. Little by little, he set up a nursery close to the church. When the plants are ready in the nursery, they are entrusted to the people who approach the sacraments.
When families celebrate a Baptism, a Confirmation, a First Holy Communion or a wedding, they each receive five saplings and are expected to plant two of them on parish land and three in their own fields and then follow their growth in the same way that they care for their own spiritual journey. In this way, there is now a healthy competition between families who vie with one another in looking after the plants given to them by the parish priest. The parish of Mahatsinjo, now called the green parish, has become an example for the whole diocese and beyond.
“I began this work of reforestation as far back as 1990, a year after I came to Madagascar,” Father Alexander, an Indonesian from the island of Flores, tells us. I am one of the first four Divine Word Missionaries to come to Madagascar. In my first years, I was curate of the parish of Vohilava and there I began to look at the integration of creation. Since then, I was given a post in the field of formation for our young, future Malagasy religious, but in 2014 I again became a parish priest and I reactivated the pastoral of creation because knowing one is helping nature by taking care of the trees brings inner peace. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church contained in ‘Laudato Si’ and it ought to move us all to plant trees and live in harmony with all living creatures.”
From 2014 up to today, about six thousand trees have been planted in the area and now this green parish is an example for many. The Indonesian Divine Word Missionaries only came to the island in 1989 and now they number twenty-five missionary priests and Brothers working in four dioceses: Mananjary, Fianarantsoa, Ambatondrazaka and Antanananrivo, the capital city. They have many vocations and, together with their pastoral work, take to heart the good of the environment.