, 10 September, 2020 / 11:19 PM
One Year since Pope Francis visited Madagascar, a missionary Cleric whose apostolate involves reaching out to the deprived in the Island nation off the coast of East Africa, has shared memories of the 6-8 September 2019 Papal pastoral trip describing it as “an unforgettable human and spiritual event.”
Among the highlights of the Holy Father’s pastoral trip to Madagascar was his visit to Akamasoa. Also known as the City of Friendship, Akamasoa is a town on the outskirts of Antananarivo.
At Akamasoa, Pope Francis met Fr. Pedro Opeka, a missionary Cleric from Argentina who has been serving in Indian Ocean Island country for over 50 years.
“It is more than a memory. It is an unforgettable experience. A human, spiritual and fraternal experience that all the people of Madagascar and Akamasoa lived when the Pope came to visit us in our village, the hills of Akamasoa and then the meeting with the young people,” Fr. Pedro who founded the City of Friendship has been quoted as saying Thursday, September 10 in an interview.
He added in reference to the Holy Father’s pastoral visit, “It was an unforgettable moment because the Pope came to comfort us in our missionary work, in this evangelical commitment that we have made in favour of the poor.”
“That the Pope came in-person to encourage us in this city, where only God knows what we have suffered, is an unforgettable event and I thank him with all my heart,” the Cleric who is a member of the Congregation of the Priests of the Mission (Lazarists) emphasized.
On the second lap of his six-day pastoral visit of the three African countries of Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius, Pope Francis visited the “City of Friendship,” where he encouraged young people “never to stop fighting the baneful effects of poverty.”
“You have come in good numbers this evening, in the heart of this City of Friendship that you built with your own hands. I have no doubt that you will continue to build it so that many families will be able to live with dignity,” Pope Francis said on 8 September 2019.
Fr. Pedro founded Akamasoa in 1990 as a “solidarity movement to help the poorest of the poor” in Madagascar.
During his visit this Friendship City 8 September 2019, Pope Francis said that Akamasoa “reflects a long history of courage and mutual assistance. This city is the fruit of many years of hard work.”
One year on, Fr. Pedro who is a former student of Pope Francis, disclosed in an interview that he had written to the Holy Father to thank him for his closeness particularly to the people of Akamasoa and Madagascar, in general.
“It was thanks to the help the Pope gave us that we were able to survive and continue working,” the compatriot of Pope Francis said, adding in reference to the Holy Father, “I wrote him a letter on behalf of all the people of Akamasoa to thank him and to tell him again how happy we are to have received him and that he will be in our prayers forever.”
Nearly 30,000 people live in the brick homes of Akamasoa’s 18 villages. All children living in the villages attend schools built by the community.
The Holy Father has contributed toward the realization of some of the infrastructure at Akamasoa, Fr. Pedro said, proving details of the impact of the subsidy.
“We have built 20 houses for women who have been abandoned by their husbands and who have many children. You have to see the joy of these children and their mothers. I have sent the Pope photos of the mothers and children who will live in these homes,” the missionary Cleric said.
He continued, “We have also built a reinforced concrete path between the hills, because the old one was very bad so that people can no longer slip and twist their ankles. We also built a courtyard where the Pope had blessed the people and we called it the “Courtyard of Pope Francis.”
“People often come here to meditate, to make retreats. The faithful from all the parishes of the city of Antananarivo come to pray at this esplanade,” Fr. Pedro further said.
He went on to recall, “A month after the great feast of welcoming the Pope, we celebrated Akamasoa’s 30th anniversary next to a landfill, where we have a stadium. There were also more than 30 thousand people. Young people and children also. It was another extraordinary moment, in the presence of several guests, including the president of the republic, ministers and ambassadors,” Fr. Pédro said.
Speaking to ACI Africa during the Pope’s visit last year, Fr. Pédro said in reference to the City of Friendship, “We are all friends and as friends, there is a mutual trust that is born and when mutual trust is born between people everything is possible. It is the trust we have built and discovered, created or built here over 30 years that is more important than the money we have received.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa