Pope Francis in Madagascar insists: ‘Poverty is not inevitable’

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Pope Francis' delivers a speech at the humanitarian association Akamasoa in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. Pope Francis visit three-nation tour of Indian Ocean African countries hard hit by poverty, conflict and natural disaster. (AFP / TIZIANA FABI)
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Pope Francis' attends next to Father Pedro's Opeka during a meeting at the humanitarian association Akamasoa in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. (AFP / Mamyrael)
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People wait for Pope Francis to hold prayer for workers at Mahatzana work yard in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. (REUTERS/Yara Nardi)
Updated 09 September 2019

Pope Francis in Madagascar insists: ‘Poverty is not inevitable’

  • The Catholic primate spoke at a rock quarry in Madagascar where hundreds of people toil rather than scavenge in the capital’s biggest dump
  • Despite Madagascar’s vast and unique natural resources, it is one of the poorest countries in the world

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar: Pope Francis insisted Sunday that poverty isn’t inevitable and that the poor deserve the dignity of work as he visited a rock quarry in Madagascar where hundreds of people toil rather than scavenge in the capital’s biggest dump.
Francis appealed for new development strategies to fight global poverty as he visited the Akamasoa project, or “City of Friendship,” which soars on a hillside above the dump in Antananarivo. The project is the brainchild of an Argentine priest who was so overwhelmed by the abject poverty of Madagascar that he set about creating ways for the poor to earn a living.
Over 30 years, the Akamasoa quarry has produced the stones that built the homes, roads, schools and health clinics that now dot the pine-covered hillside.
Villagers, students and quarry workers lined the neat streets and pastel-painted doorways to greet the pope as he arrived, and thousands of children sang their hearts out for him in the village auditorium. The pope was clearly overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, particularly when a girl named Fanny told him in French that his visit would encourage the students to work and pray harder.
Speaking off the cuff in French, Francis told them that Akamasoa’s founder, the Rev. Pedro Opeka, had been a student of his in 1967-1968 at a Buenos Aires seminary, but that he remembered that Opeka didn’t much care for studying.
“He had a love for work,” Francis said to giggles.
Returning to his prepared remarks and with Madagascar’s president listening behind him, Francis told the villagers that the existence of Akamasoa meant that God had “heard the cry of the poor.”
“Your plea 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,” Francis told them. “Every corner of these neighborhoods, every school or dispensary, is a song of hope that refutes and silences any suggestion that some things are ‘inevitable.’“
“Let us say it forcefully: Poverty is not inevitable!“

Francis, the first pope from the global south, has long preached about the dignity of work, and the need for all able-bodied adults to be able to earn enough to provide for their families. He has frequently met with workers and the unemployed and used his moral authority to demand political leaders provide job opportunities, especially for young people.
Opeka, a charismatic, bearded figure who is beloved by many in this city, was working as a Lazarist missionary in Madagascar when he was inspired to create Akamasoa after witnessing the degrading life led by the parents and children who lived off the dump.
The Akamasoa project, which is funded by donors around the world and recognized by the Madagascar government, says it has built some 4,000 homes in more than 20 villages serving some 25,000 people since its foundation in 1989. About 700 people work in the rock quarry, using simple mallets to chop chunks of granite into cobblestones or pebbles, while others work as carpenters or attend training classes. It says 14,000 children have passed through its schools.
Opeka said the low salaries he can pay the quarry workers are an injustice. But he said they are at least better than what scavengers earn in the dump, and are enough to enable parents to send their children to school.
“Akamasoa is a revolt against poverty, it is a revolt against inevitability,” Opeka told The Associated Press ahead of the pope’s visit. “When we started here it was an inferno, people who were excluded from the society.”




People wait for Pope Francis' outside Father Pedro's humanitarian association Akamasoa in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 8, 2019. (AFP / Mamyrael)

Despite Madagascar’s vast and unique natural resources, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. The World Bank says 75% of its 24 million people live on less than $2 a day; only 13% of the population has access to electricity.
In his greeting to the pope, Opeka said much of Madagascar’s poverty is due to indifference, by society at large and its leaders.
“In Akamasoa, we have shown that poverty isn’t inevitable, but was created by the absence of a social sensibility on the part of political leaders who abandoned and turned their back on the people who elected them,” Opeka said. “This place of exclusion today has become a place of communion of brothers and sisters of the whole world.”
Francis said Akamasoa, built up the hill from the dump, was a concrete example of a faith capable of “moving mountains.” He said that faith “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.”
“Let us pray that throughout Madagascar and everywhere in the world this ray of light will spread, 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,” Francis said before heading to the rock quarry itself to deliver a prayer for workers.
Susane Razanamahasoa, 65, has worked in the quarry for 20 years, 9.5 hours a day, to provide for her six children. She said the pope’s visit recalled the dedication to the poor of St. Francis of Assisi, his namesake.
“He is an extraordinary man and the fact that he has taken the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi means he is thirsty to live like St. Francis,” she said during a break in her work. “I am so full of joy that he is coming.”
Ravo Razafindrabe, a midwife who volunteered at Akamasoa during her medical training, said the project was a model for Madagascar since it fights inequality by empowering the poor themselves.
“Father Pedro takes people from the streets and gives them work to have a house,” she said of Opeka as she waited for Francis to arrive along the main road in Akamasoa. “It’s important because it’s an example for the president of doing something: giving things to people to help improve their lives. It means people in the streets today can have a house tomorrow.”
“It shows Christ’s love in a perfect way,” she said.


New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000

In this picture taken on February 14, 2020, a Malaysia Airlines hostess (R) wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a Chinese passenger before she boards a flight to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 43 sec ago

New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000

  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.
South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, the US government said the more than 100 American passengers who stayed on the ship or were hospitalized in Japan would have to wait for another two weeks before they could return to the US
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.