Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Pope insists: ‘Poverty is not inevitable’

Published:Monday | September 9, 2019 | 12:11 AM
Pope Francis walks with the pastoral staff as he celebrates a mass in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Sunday.

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP):

Pope Francis insisted on 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 when 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.

A love for work

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 neighbourhoods, 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!”