Blessed Jacques Berthieu

Blessed Jacques Berthieu

October 15, 2012
JONATHAN LUXMOORE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Blessed Jacques Berthieu was a 19th-century French Jesuit missionary murdered because of his faith during an indigenous uprising in Madagascar.

Born into a farming family at Polminhac, France, in 1838, he served as a diocesan priest before joining the Jesuits in 1873. He discovered a missionary vocation while studying theology at Vals, where he was noted for devotion to the Sacred Heart, and was sent in 1875 to the French colony of Reunion.

He settled on the island of Nosy Boraha, where he launched a dynamic mission with two other Jesuits and members of the Sisters of St. Joseph de Cluny.

In March 1880, the Jesuits were expelled from all French territories, and Berthieu moved to nearby Madagascar, where he established a new mission. He worked there 14 years, becoming well known for his care of lepers, catechetical work and vigorous defence of marriage.

When war broke out again in 1894, Berthieu moved to Reunion, returning a year later when Madagascar became a French protectorate.

FINAL CONFRONTATION

Peace proved fragile. In May 1896, an uprising erupted among the Menalamba tribe, who blamed Madagascar's misfortunes on the abandonment of traditional idols and patterns of authority.

Berthieu had a confrontation with the French colonel assigned to evacuate Christians over the officer's treatment of local women.

He then set off with his own convoy toward the safety of the capital. However, the convoy was attacked and he was savagely beaten by the Menalamba, who offered to spare his life if he renounced his faith.

He refused and on June 8, 1896, he was shot and hit in the head before being thrown into the Mananara River. His body was never recovered.

In letters published in 1935, Berthieu said he had loved his home region in France, but had loved even more the "uncultivated fields of Madagascar" despite knowing "the fruits of my mission were only a hope in some places, and barely visible in others."

He told a fellow priest he had rejected offers to return to France because this would "contradict the missionary spirit."

"I know for certain this is where God has called me – to stay here until my final hour is no longer a sacrifice," he wrote.