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.


Almost 80,000 homes still without power a week after Japan typhoon

Updated 39 sec ago

Almost 80,000 homes still without power a week after Japan typhoon

  • Typhoon Faxai powered into the Tokyo region in the early hours of Monday last week
  • The national weather agency Monday issued new warnings for heavy rain in Chiba
TOKYO: Almost 80,000 homes are still without power a week after a powerful typhoon battered eastern Japan, authorities said Monday, with sustained heavy rain prompting evacuation orders and hampering recovery efforts.
Typhoon Faxai powered into the Tokyo region in the early hours of Monday last week, packing record winds that brought down power lines, disrupted Rugby World Cup preparations and prompted the government to order tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.
The storm killed two people, with at least three elderly later confirmed dead due to heatstroke as temperatures soared to above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in areas affected by a post-typhoon blackout.
Some 78,700 households were still without power in Chiba, southeast of the capital, Tokyo Electric Co. (TEPCO) spokesman Naoya Kondo said.
“A complete recovery is still unlikely until September 27 as we have difficulties in mountain areas,” he added.
Some 16,700 households were also without water because several water purification plants had no power, a local official said.
With help from the military, officials were dispatching water tanker trucks to the affected areas.
The national weather agency Monday issued new warnings for heavy rain in Chiba, while local authorities issued non-compulsory evacuation orders to 46,300 people due to the risk of landslides.
“A delay in recovery work is expected due to heavy rain,” said Kenta Hirano, a disaster management official in Futtsu in Chiba, where more than 1,000 houses were damaged by the typhoon.
Local media showed residents in Chiba hurriedly covering broken roofs with blue tarps.
“We are at a loss as we can’t live there again,” a 66-year-old man told public broadcaster NHK after the typhoon ripped off the roof of his house.