“Poverty is not inevitable!”: Pope Francis’ message to the young people of Madagascar

Pope Francis and Father Pedro Opeka, founder of the Akamasoa Community of Good Friends, attend a meeting with members of the community in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

“Poverty is not inevitable,” Pope Francis said when he visited Akomasosa, “the city of friendship,” that the Rev. Pedro Pablo Opeka, an Argentine missionary, had started to build 30 years ago together with some very poor families. He hailed their extraordinary venture as “a prophetic witness to hope.”

Some 8,000 children and young people were gathered inside and could not conceal their joy as they sang in unison, chanted and cheered as they waited for the pope to arrive.The President of Madagascar and his wife were present too – they come to Mass here on Sunday – and joined in the celebration.

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The atmosphere was electric and the place erupted with uncontrollable emotion and joy when Pope Francis stepped inside the vast hall escorted by Father Opeka whom he had warmly embraced on arrival. Hundreds of teenage girls seated in rows in the center of the hall wore blue, white, yellow or pink dresses, and waved flags of the same colors (the colors of Akamasoa) when he arrived. When he was seated, they sang a well-known spanish hymn - Dios està aqui (“God is here”) as they moved together in perfect harmony. The look of immense happiness on Francis’ face revealed his inner joy at being here.

Father Opeka welcomed Pope Francis to this place which, he said, “was one a zone of exclusion, suffering violence and death” but over the past 30 years “Divine Providence has created an ‘oasis of hope’ in which children have regained their dignity, young people have returned to work and their parents have begun to work to prepare a future for their children.” He told the pope, “we have eradicated the extreme poverty of this place thanks to faith, work, school, reciprocal respect and discipline.” He thanked Francis for coming and said, “your presence here is a grace and a blessing that has redoubled our courage to fight against poverty.”

Next, a 13 year-old girl named Fanny (i Fanomezanjanahary Tsiadino F. Ratsiory) greeted him on behalf of all the children and young people. She told him that she had come to the Akamasoa center with her mother, young sister and brother when she was six, and it changed her whole life, because she is now happy, can study and prays. She gave him a gift made by her mother, and she,her siblings and their mother greeted the pope as the young people cheered.

When it came to Pope Francis turn to speak, he began by confiding to the young people that Father Opeka had been a student of his when he studied theology in 1968, but he said – drawing laughs and smiles from the children – “he didn’t want to study much, he just wanted to work.”

Father Opeka thanked Francis for coming and said, “your presence here is a grace and a blessing that has redoubled our courage to fight against poverty.”

He went on to express his personal joy at being here and said Akamasoa “is an expression of God’s presence in the midst of his people who are poor” but “it is not an isolated or occasional presence… it is the presence of a God who has chosen to live and dwell forever in the midst of his people.”

“Seeing your happy faces, I give thanks to the Lord who has heard the cry of the poor and shown his love in tangible signs like the creation of this village,” the pope said. He recalled that their cry for help “which arose from being homeless, from seeing your children grow up malnourished, from being without work and often regarded with indifference if not disdain – has turned into a song of hope for you and for all those who see you.” He was referring to the houses, the schools, the dispensaries that are in the neighborhood. Saying all this “is a song of hope that refutes and silences any suggestion that some things are “inevitable.” Francis stated forcefully “poverty is not inevitable!”

He recalled that the Akamasoa city reflects “a long history of courage and mutual assistance” and is “the fruit of many years of hard work.” But, he said, “at its foundations, we find a living faith translated into concrete actions capable of “moving mountains”. A faith that made it possible to see opportunity in place of insecurity; to see hope in place of inevitability; to see life in a place that spoke only of death and destruction.”

He recalled that “the building blocks of teamwork and a sense of family and community have enabled you to rebuild, with patience and skill, your confidence, not only in yourselves but also in one another” and “this has given you the chance to take the lead in shaping this enterprise.” He said that “it has been an education in the values handed down by those first families who took a risk with Father Opeka – the values of hard work, discipline, honesty, self-respect and respect for others.”

He told them that all this has helped them to understand that “God’s dream is not only for our personal development, but essentially for the development of the community, and that there is no worse form of slavery, as Father Pedro reminded us, than to live only for ourselves.”

Speaking directly to the young people of Akamasoa, Pope Francis encouraged them to “never stop fighting the disastrous effects of poverty; never yield to the temptation of settling for an easy life or withdrawing into yourselves.” He urged them to continue this work started by their elders and said they will find the strength to do so in “your faith” and in the example of their elders. He encouraged them to ask God to make them “generous in the service of your brothers and sisters.”

Akamasoa “is an expression of God’s presence in the midst of his people who are poor” but “it is not an isolated or occasional presence… it is the presence of a God who has chosen to live and dwell forever in the midst of his people.”

He prayed that Akamasoa may become throughout Madagascar and everywhere in the world “a ray of light, so that we can enact models of development that support the fight against poverty and social exclusion, on the basis of trust, education, hard work and commitment.” He concluded by invoking God’s blessing on Father Opeka and all the inhabitants of Akomasoa, and asking them to pray for him.

As he exited the hall accompanied by Father Opeka, the young people sang and waved their flags. Francis then entered his popemobile and invited Father Opeka to join him as he waved to the thousands of people that were gathered outside.

From there, he drove a short distance to the nearby Mahatazana mine for precious stones that is now managed by the Akamasoa project and employs 700 workers. There too he was greeted by thousands of people in a gathering of song and music and some short speeches.

Then, he recited the following prayer for workers which he had written himself, as a prayer for all workers and not just those at this mine (full text below).

From there, Pope Francis drove to the Jesuit-run Collège Saint Michel for a meeting with priests, women and men religious and seminarians. After which, his final engagement of the day was a private meeting with the Jesuits of Madagascar.

POPE FRANCIS’S PRAYER FOR WORKERS.

God our Father, Creator of heaven and earth, we thank you for gathering us as brothers and sisters in this place. Before this rock, split by human labour, we pray to you for workers everywhere.

We pray for those who work with their hands and with immense physical effort: soothe their wearied frames, that they may tenderly caress their children and join in their games. Grant them unfailing spiritual strength and physical health, lest they succumb beneath the burden of their labors.

Grant that the fruits of their work may ensure a dignified life to their families. May they come home at night to warmth, comfort and encouragement and together, under your gaze, find true joy.

May our families know that the joy of earning our daily bread becomes perfect when that bread is shared. May our children not be forced to work, but receive schooling and continue their studies, and may their teachers devote themselves fully to their task, without needing other work to make a decent living.

God of justice, touch the hearts of owners and managers. May they make every effort to ensure that workers receive a just wage and enjoy conditions respectful of their human dignity.

Father, in your mercy, take pity on those who lack work. May unemployment - the cause of such great misery – disappear from our societies. May all know the joy and dignity of earning their daily bread, and bringing it home to support their loved ones.

Create among workers a spirit of authentic solidarity. May they learn to be attentive to one another, To encourage one another, to support those in difficulty and to lift up those who have fallen.

Let their hearts not yield to hatred, resentment or bitterness in the face of injustice. May they keep alive their hope for a better world, and work to that end.

Together, may they constructively defend their rights. Grant that their voices and demands may be heard.

God our Father, you have made Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and courageous spouse of the Virgin Mary, protector of workers throughout the world.

To him I entrust all those who labor here, at Akamasoa, and all the workers of Madagascar, especially those experiencing uncertainty and hardship. May he keep them in the love of your Son and sustain them in their livelihood and in their hope. Amen.

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

Poverty was inevitable for most of human history. Maybe the Pope should ask what changed that. Extreme poverty is disappearing from the world and is not because of anything the Church is doing. The success at Akomasosa should be studied and copied where possible. Hopefully it will sustain itself beyond Fr Opeka’s tenure.

Jorge Rebasa
1 week ago

Trolls just want to have fun.
People who troll like to post comments to websites or communities online that cause trouble, insult others, and cause general mayhem, just for the sheer pleasure of seeing what happens when they do so.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886914000324

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

I have been commenting here for over 12 years. What did I say that wasn’t true?

Jorge Rebasa
1 week ago

J Cosgrove sez: What did I say that wasn’t true
Even Satan says things that are true.
Speak the truth in love
“Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”
Ephesians 4:15-16
http://www.usccb.org/bible/ephesians/4

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

Thank you for your kind remarks. First time I have been compared to Satan.

Eternal Life
1 week ago

I'd rather recommend thought before comments not otherwise.

Even a grade 4 pupil is very much aware that poverty isn't inevitable when given deserving fight as Fr. Opeka's Akamasoa experiment has glaringly shown.

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

Are you aware of the economic history of the world? Up until 200 years ago about 98% of the world including Europe lived in extreme poverty. But something changed. Something we should teach 4th grade students. Apparently you do not know this.

Oz Jewel
1 week ago

What hobby-horse are you riding, Eternal Life?

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were well provided for in an already created garden.
After their disobedience led to their expulsion from the garden, they had to work or starve.
Every child born since has been naked, powerless and without anything. Whether that changed depended on the ingenuity and labour and luck of the adults of their group.

While there was room for their small numbers, browsing and grazing or hunting and gathering kept the wolf of hunger from the door for a day.

Poverty is the normal, natural, usual and fully to be expected state of us all since we grew to such numbers that living off the land could not support everybody.

Barter and exchange was one mitigating adaptation.
Eventually this morphed into common agreement that some commodity would be used as a token for the exchange and thus money was invented is several forms.

Every human being is born with a LOST birthright, we live survivors have the burden of providing charity.
Satan's Socialism is trying to eliminate the reality and the concept of charity by replacing it with 'rights' nonsense.
Try reading the Screwtape Letters, it seems the deposit of faith has not been clear to you.

Nora Bolcon
6 days 16 hours ago

Sexism and sexual discrimination are among the leading causes of poverty worldwide and no one knows this fact better than the Roman Catholic Hierarchy because it is one of the largest and most powerful charities in the world.

Yet, no entity is more sexist and teaches misogyny and sexual discrimination to the secular or religious world more potently than the Roman Catholic Church. This makes us, the Roman Catholic Church, one of the largest producers of poverty around the world, and after creating and supporting that poverty, we in turn beg constantly for global funds to help alleviate it.

This leads us back to our Pope's own words "Change the world, don’t just gripe about it!"

Pope Francis, I and many others have been begging you to change the rules treating men and women differently under the laws of our Church constantly, so that men and women are treated the same and with same human dignity, and that mandates all same sacraments and opportunities. All we hear back form you is that changing rules, even when they have no foundation in scripture, and no fully proven foundation in early church history, can still ever be changed! Stop griping and lying about what you can't do "ordain women priests and bishops immediately" when in fact, as Pope, everyone knows you can change this law and literally ordain women priests and bishops today or tomorrow, if you wished.

Pope Francis, You need to face the fact that you are the problem and stop blaming other things first since those other entities are largely following your example of vicious, abusive, and uncaring sexism, and they too are describing their misogyny as Christian despite how reprehensible such a suggestion may be in truth.

Jorge Rebasa
6 days 13 hours ago

Nora you did much damage to women with your vulgar and hateful comments nearby in an article authored by Dr Pia de Solenni. Clearly you are as vicious, abusive and sexist as those you crucify.
https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/09/09/should-catholic-women-preach-mass-heres-better-question

Nora Bolcon
6 days 10 hours ago

J rebasa you need to quantify your remarks and look up the definitions of the words you use with which to criticize. There is nothing I wrote that can be accurately described as sexist. What was vulgar and hate-filled was the article Pia wrote as it was full of self loathing false statements full of misogyny in a desperate attempt to use already proven false stereotypes by science and anti gospel statements by our hierarchy to support the continued sexual abuse of unjust discrimination in our church ordination practices.

Nothing I stated in that comment was false and women who support sexual abuse and discrimination are as pitiable as any African American man who supports the abuse of racism against black people. Such women do even greater harm to women and our church than women-hating men. Is it disgusting that she thought it was not a sign of her own mental illness that she wrote it? Yes it is. Calling her out for her behavior is honest not wrong. Perhaps she will seek help for her low self esteem. I cannot help it if a truth is vulgar any more than I can help that you can't tolerate truth.

Christopher Minch
1 week ago

Extreme poverty does continue to exist in this world due to the existence of the haves and have nots and the haves willingness to maintain their money, power and prerequisites whatever needs to be done. It is not just money that makes the world go-round it is also politics and culture too. In this instance faith and hard work with probably some charity by people of good-will which is not mentioned too much in this article and a peaceable environment. Capitalism creates a lot of wealth for some, maybe many, but certainly not for the majority of people. And trickle-down theories depend on the "good-will" of a few who may be enlightened either because of guilt or some kind of enlightened ideas, which ends up being charity and not a true sharing of the fruits of everyone's labor. But Jesus' saying, "the poor we will have with us always" remains true for the most part because the non-spiritual person will always conceive they "do not have enough" and that can include the attitudes of the upper middle class and the very very rich. Cosgrove, you say you don't love money but that is your primary concern in about every message you send out. You are willing to disparage any effort, even of the Holy Spirit, if it doesn't mention you're beloved capitalistic idols in some way.

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

Why are you misrepresenting my comments? I am interested in the well being of everyone and comment on how to eliminate poverty by emphasizing what works. Extreme poverty is disappearing from the world. Why? When just over 200 years ago, about 98% of the world lived in extreme poverty. Aren’t you interested in why and what happened and how to spread this? Are you not interested in getting rid of poverty?

Eternal Life
1 week ago

A great papal visit to Madagascar.
You can see what faith with works can do to a people in Akamasoa...

What a better way to serve the Lord.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 days 19 hours ago

Eternal
Why the avatar?......you cast stones but lack the courage to to name yourself as required by this site!

Todd Witherell
1 week ago

Viva Papa Francesco! Viva the young people of Madagascar!

Terry Kane
1 week ago

Many believe that the Pope is God's representative on earth. However is this Pope not contradicting Jesus, who said, " You have the poor with you always..."? Matthew 26:11
Only one of them can be correct - my guess is that one is JC!

Jorge Rebasa
1 week ago

The Bible says many things and given your comments that you make using your hands, and the words of Christ in Matthew 5, you have got something to cut off. Keep us posted and careful with staining the furniture. 😉
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.s It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”
Matthew 5: 29-30

Oz Jewel
1 week ago

This is the kind version.
Address the content of the article - what you have written is offensive against other commentators.

Terry Kane
6 days 9 hours ago

What would the unkind version be?
Quoting the Son of God is offensive??
You were offensive to Mr. Cosgrove - asking what hobby horse.
What was my offense?
Who was offended by anything I wrote?

Christopher Minch
6 days 17 hours ago

Both can be correct. Jesus was speaking in universal, spiritual terms. Francis was speaking to a specific time and place where the People of God and of good will made a difference in their part of the world.

Terry Kane
6 days 9 hours ago

So Jesus Christ was incorrect because he did not name a specific time and place in his comment? Are there no, "People of God and of good will" in many places? Yet there is poverty world-wide; why is that?
Can you name a, "specific time and place" where the Pope's comments referenced in this article have proven to be accurate and disproved what Jesus said?

Adeolu Ademoyo
1 week ago

May God almighty continue to bless, strengthen, guide, and enable Pope Francis for encouraging, guiding, motivating, inspiring. leading and selflessly serving Christ Church. Pope Francis, you teach us humility in service to Christ and His Church. Through the example of your humble service to Christ and His Church, and the grace of God, I am inspired to serve Christ and His Church with joy quietly, silently, invisibly. God bless you my Pope-the servant of all servants of Christ.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 days 22 hours ago

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” It needs to be eradicated. The Reverend Pedro Opeka is showing the way.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

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