Father Pierre André emphasised how this shrine is much
more than the land on which the church and the shrine’s hospitality structures
are built. In reality, it is made up of the path of the tribulation and the victory
of Father Berthieu, from the village of Ambohibemasoandro to the river of
Mananara, near Ambiatibe. It is thus a shrine spread over 12 km, including
villages, churches, springs and dykes, where the Jesuit faced violence and
where he testified to his steadfastness to his faith and his union with the
suffering and risen Christ.
Jacques Berthieu was already a diocesan priest in
France when he joined the Jesuits. He was attracted by the Spiritual Exercises,
which united him to Jesus. During his novitiate, he also discovered the grace
of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not as a simple popular devotion, but rather as a
profound attachment to the mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of
the Lord Jesus. The Sacred Heart, he would say, encompasses the whole faith.
so, from the moment he was captured in a Protestant village - a Protestant
family was seeking to shelter him - the Spiritual Exercises sustained him as he
confronted the physical, verbal and moral violence of his executioners. He saw
the Exercises as a powerful and effective spiritual tool for bearing witness to
a bold and courageous faith in Christ. The meditations on the “three degrees of
humility” (Sp. Ex. 165-168) and the “Ad amorem” (Sp. Ex. 230) particularly
sustained him. The Ignatian spirituality of the Exercises did not cease to
motivate his attachment to the Lord throughout the path of martyrdom that he
undertook. It was there that he found the strength to affirm: “I prefer to die
rather than renounce my faith”.