At the height of summer, the visit of the current strong man of Madagascar to the Vatican is in no way a coincidence. A candidate for re-election in November 2023, Andry Rajoelina needs to restore his image while the Catholic Church pursues greater visibility on the island in order to face the challenge posed by the growth of Protestant sects.
“Spiritual renewal. This is how the President of the Republic of Madagascar presented his visit to the Vatican in the heart of summer. Andry Rajoelina was indeed received in private audience by the sovereign pontiff for about twenty minutes on the morning of August 17, 2023.
The Malagasy Head of State then discussed the more technical aspects of the diplomatic issues with Msgr. Miroslaw Wachowski, who represented the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, prevented by a visit to South Sudan.
On the menu for discussion: the war in Ukraine and its global consequences, the current crisis situation on the African continent, particularly in Niger, but also – and above all – the study of a bilateral agreement between Antananarivo and the Holy-See.
A subject of sovereign international law, the Holy See, in order to advance the interests of the Church in the various States within which its apostolic activity is deployed, must be omnipresent in the diplomatic field. Because in this area, as in that of the spiritual life, he who does not progress, regresses.
However, in an island where 34% of the inhabitants claim to be Catholic, the visibility of the Church is essential while sects emanating from Protestantism, such as “evangelicals” or members of the “Church-Apocalypse,” abound especially since extreme poverty affects the country, delivering its inhabitants to self-proclaimed gurus who promise their followers a bright future.
To face such challenges, the Malagasy Church may not always move forward in close ranks. One may recall that in October 2022, the pope appealed to the Madagascar bishops during an ad limina visit to “stop the chatter” and “show unity.”
For the current head of state, this papal audience also comes at the right time, as his second term comes to an end next November, and Andry Rajoelina intends to run for the supreme office for a third time. This visit to Rome can only serve to establish his image as a credible statesman in the eyes of the population.
At the end of his visit, the Malagasy offered the head of the Church a game of “solitaire” set with precious marbles. It is a beautiful metaphor for the exercise of power that the Pontiff will surely be able to meditate on.