Secular Franciscan Order

Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis

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Lucien Botovasoa was born in Vohipeno (Madagascar) in 1908, the first of nine brothers and sisters. He started studying at the public school, then he attended the Fathers (Priests) School when it was opened. He was then baptized and received First Communion when he was 14 years old. He completed his studies at the St. Giuseppe (Joseph) di Fianaratsoa School and became an instructor at the Fathers’ School.

 

His teaching did not satisfy him if it did not coincide with the Christian education of the children. Each day, after lessons, he read the Lives of Saints to the pupils who wanted to hear about them. He added little comments and brief encouragement. But it was the story of the martyrs that captured his heart and moved the hearts of the students.

On October 10, 1930, he married Suzanna Soazana, who was then 16 years old. They had five children. Another child was on the way when Lucien was killed at the age of 39. Thinking of the extraordinary Christian qualities that the teacher had, a nun once told him: "Oh! Master/Teacher, you are so pious, you have studied at the School of Fathers. If only you had gone to the seminary, you would have become a priest. Do you not regret having married?” Lucien answered without a shadow of hesitation: "I do not have the slightest regret at all. On the contrary, I am very happy about my state because God called me for this: to be a layman, married, a teacher. This way, I live with the people of the village and to attract them, I can do what you, Fathers and Sisters, cannot do because most of them are still pagan and I can show them a Christian character that is accessible to them because I am not a stranger among them.” Well before the Council's encouragement, Lucien Botovasoa understood perfectly the rights and duties of lay people in the Church, and the complementarity role they play between them and that of the priest.

So the master's/teacher’s desire was to be a perfect layman. When the group of the Crusaders of the Heart of Jesus was formed in Vihipeno, he was among the first to enter. He was received on August 18, 1935. In 1936, he was elected secretary and treasurer and fulfilled this task until his death. But this did not satisfy his thirst and he continued to seek a path of superior perfection. He was married and could not become a religious. So he went looking for a way of perfection within marriage. He began searching in a book on the lives of the saints who were married; but to no avail. But he, who wanted to be truly a "lay religious", ended up finding what he was looking for. He found the Handbook of the Third Order Franciscans. At that time, this public association of the faithful was still unknown in the southern region. So, married people could be consecrated to the service of the Kingdom like the religious! There were in the Church associations especially for them!

This was a great joy for Lucien Botovasoa! However, a tree does not a forest make. How to become a Secular Franciscan without having a fraternity? Nothing is impossible for a brave soul. The master/teacher then spoke discretely to men and women who, from his point of view, should have understood the benefits of the Third Order. Alas! All were already in one or another association. They refused, saying that it was a novelty in the diocese and that too few people would want it, and that it did not have a chance of succeeding. Besides, all of them already had too much to do in the associations where they had already entered and to help the parish...

Lucien Botovasoa was not discouraged. He could not convince anyone, and so he began to pray. Finally, a worthy mother agreed to become a Secular Franciscan. The master/teacher and she found some companions and created a fraternity. What a fervor by Lucien, who was discovering what it meant to be a Secular Franciscan while teaching it to others! The zeal of the first associates is an authentic "bubbling over." At each meeting on Wednesday, Lucien provided ardent encouragement. His companions could not forget how their heart would beat when he would talk about the happiness of the Christian who lives in self-sacrifice, especially if this can lead to the death of the martyr!

The wife of Botovasoa was Christian. With his help she also entered the Daughters of Mary, but she did not understand what it meant to live by striving to serve God according to the precepts of the Gospel. She did not understand much of her husband's nightly prayers. She did not understand his fasting, his way of dressing. She could not stand the sight of St. Francis's image, followed by his wolf, which Lucien hung on the wall of the house. "He’s the one,” she would say, “that makes you crazy!" She feared that the teacher would go to become a religious and abandon his wife and children. When Lucien heard this, he burst out laughing, then gently told his wife that he was far from thinking of such things. Indeed, for him, who is married, it would be a grave sin to abandon his wife and children. He would never do such a thing! He also explained to her why he fasted… that it only had to do with him and not the family members. They could eat whatever they wanted. In fact, he encouraged her to cook well for herself and for the children.

As for the clothing he wore, the master/teacher wanted to wear only a trouser and a khaki shirt both on Sundays and weekdays. ("It's the color of the clothes that tertiaries wear," he would say). His wife would often reproach him because he should have been wearing black trousers, like all his fellow teachers, at least on Sundays. Lucien would refuse gently, but encouraged his wife to wear the clothes she wanted. "If I do extra hours at school," he would say, "it's so that you can be comfortable." But his wife would protest even more: "You force me to have an unbearable life with your work that never ends. Never a moment of rest, and even at the night, how many times you get up! With your skills you could become a bookkeeper, have a good salary, and we would live comfortably, instead of always being in discomfort like now." "Come on!” Lucien would say with great sweetness. “even if we had enough money to fill this house, we would not have the wealth we have now, the one that will never rust!"

His heart rested on only one thing: the faith. He prayed incessantly. The rosary never left his hand, so much so that they nicknamed him "pikopiko grain" (pikopiko grains are like the rosary beads and they also make some rosaries from them). When Lucien used to go to his father's land in the countryside, far away from the city, he would invite those whom he found along the way to pray the rosary with him. His way of doing this was so captivating that even those who did not have any desire to pray were likely to accept. And many remember the way the master/teacher had to explain the mysteries of the Rosary with a heart so full of joy that he would cause people to love the prayer.

Although he was not a member of Madagascar's Disadvantaged Party (PADESM), because of his cultural level and because he enjoyed the general trust of the population, the party wanted to present him as a candidate for the election of the Provincial Assembly in January 1947. He firmly refused and there was no way of changing his mind. "Politics is totally strange to me,” he said. “You all know that I just love religious matters and that I spend the whole day on that. So I apologize to you, I ask you a thousand times for forgiveness, but I beg you, look for someone else." Who was not heated up by politics across the whole territory of Mattanana and Manakara in those days that preceded the Rebellion?

Long before the outbreak of violence, the master/teacher used to repeat to his wife: "It will not last long, but I do not care. I want to die and be happy. My only pain will be to abandon you." Even to his father he said, "My hour is near, it is probably a month." "You are in good health; There is no rumor that they will put you to death. Why do you say this?” "The only thing I'm sorry for, Father, is that I will not leave you anything." And again to his brothers: "There will be some who will be killed in our family, but we will not all die, maybe only one. So be courageous, go back to God and have confidence."

When the "tumult" of 1947 started, he said to his wife and children: "Whatever happens, whatever comes, do not ever separate yourselves from God." Lucien went toward death in a positive way. "I'm not afraid of death," he said to his wife, "I will find bliss/heaven. What I'm sorry about is abandoning you, but I'll be close to you." Everyone witnessed it: he offered to die in the place of his family, so that none of them would be killed. "If there is someone that should be killed," he said to Sr. Marie-Joseph eight days before March 29, 1947, “I will be the first." Why? "The teacher was too Christian,” many say, “he bothered those who had bad intentions, those who wanted to take advantage of the disorder to commit injustices." "Botovasoa was too well known for his impartiality toward having justice reign. For him justice was justice, periob,"said a pagan, a notable of the city.

When the "tumult" began, Botovasoa could easily have survived either by hiding or going to Manakara. He did exactly the opposite. He considered it a sacred duty to face death. He was waiting for martyrdom and would not want to miss the chance by fleeing. He accepted his father's invitation to follow him to his country home, about 4 kilometers north of the city on March 30 (Palm Sunday). But when he learned that there had been massacres in the city, he returned. It was the Wednesday after Easter. In the city he no longer found priests or nuns, because the authorities had taken them to Manakara. On the following Sunday, Botovasoa gathered the Christians still in the city for prayer. He assembled them in the nuns’ workroom because the church had been shut down.

On Thursday, April 17, Botovasoa and his family were at home when a good Christian woman came from Ambohimanarivo, Lucien's home district. "I heard rumors," she said, "that the master/teacher is about to be summoned tonight to the home of the clan." At that time and for that hour, it was a process of condemning (someone) to death. Lucien's wife began to cry, and one of the younger brothers had a bout of the fever. Only the master/teacher remained unmoved. "Yes, I know that the Chief needs me. Do not be afraid." It was lunch time and he wanted them to eat calmly. When they had finished eating, he and his wife remained alone in the room. Lucien began to speak to his wife with great sweetness: "Yes, yes, it is true, I was summoned to be judged" which, in those days meant to be condemned to death. His wife said, "Fortunately we found out about it beforehand. Go. Hide yourself, for example under the roof of the bell tower. Nobody will find you up there." The master/teacher smiled. "If they don’t find me, they will persecute you. Let me go! ... "Then he gave his wife his last recommendations for educating their children. After this conversation and until the evening, Lucien never ceased praying, sometimes reading his TOF (Third Order Franciscan) Manual, sometimes praying the rosary.

Around 9 o'clock, four young men sent by the clan chief knocked on the door. "The Chief wants you," they said. "I'm ready," Lucien said, rising immediately. He was brought to the clan's house and the Chief told him, "You are a member of the PADESM and you have to be judged." According to witnesses, Botovasoa answered in a clear voice without hesitating: "I know you are to kill me and I cannot avoid it. If my life will save the lives of many others, do not hesitate to kill me. What I ask you is not to touch my brothers." This request was granted. Although the master/teacher offered himself to death without complaints, they did not take him away immediately. He was invited to sit next to the Chief of the clan, where he remained for about half an hour before they took him away. It is difficult to know what happened in that time because the testimonies of the attendees don’t agree. It is said that the Chief of the clan wanted to hire Botovasoa to become the secretary of the MDRM (Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal) in the neighborhood of Ambohimanarivo, as he had done with other teachers in other villages, but he refused, saying: "You of this party persecute religion, ripping off the medals from the neck of the people, treading on the cross, closing the churches to make them self-styled ballrooms, etc. You know how religion is precious for me and it is impossible to help a party that opposes it." Despite all the smooth-talking speeches to try to convince him, Botovasoa was impossible to convince. Then the clan chief pronounced the sentence. The young delegates took the master/teacher away. It was about 10 in the evening.

They went to the slaughterhouse at the edge of the river Mattanana for the executions. Along the way, Lucien asked to stop in order to pray. He kneeled and prayed aloud. An eyewitness, who understood his prayer perfectly, reports it as follows: "My God, forgive these my brothers. It is hard for them to do the duty they now have to do against me. May my blood, scattered on the earth, be for the redemption of my country." And he adds: "Very moved, I turned to one of my companions and murmured to them, ‘You are about to kill a man like this? Are you not afraid?’ We are designated for this task. Everyone is afraid for their own lives."

When they wanted to tie his hands, the master/teacher said, "Do not tie me to kill me, I’ll tie myself," and put his hands in front of him, crossing them. At the edge of the water, he knelt down and resumed his prayer, repeating the words he had just said. See to what point this great Christian drew respect from those who were about to kill him. No one dared disturb his prayer! He remained kneeling down and leaned forward, continuing to pray while waiting to be hit. Almost all the executioners were young people whom he had taught at school. They were afraid and hesitated shaking the "cut-cut (sword)" over the head of the condemned man. Finally Lucien turned to them and said, "Please, do not pass your sword back and forth, do it in such a way so as to cut my neck with only one blow."

The chief executioner struck one great blow and beheaded Botovasoa. In succession, each of the executioners struck a blow or wet the "sword" in his blood, according to the rule. Then the body was thrown into the Mattanana waters. He was dressed in his Secular Franciscan outfit, khaki jacket and pants, and belted with the cord. The waters took his body away and they later saw him dragged toward the sea.

Explanatory note. The PADESM (more moderate and patient) and MDRM (more intransigent) were the two parties that in 1947, at the time of the revolt against French colonial domination, fought for power in Madagascar.