- Title: Popeâ€™s former student to welcome his mentor to Madagascar quarry 'cathedral'
- Date: 2nd September 2019
- Summary: PEOPLE BREAKING GRANITE ROCKS WITH HAMMERS (SOUNDBITE) (French) FOUNDER OF AKAMASOA ASSOCIATION, FATHER PEDRO OPEKA, SAYING: "We are happy that Pope Francis will come here, he is going to visit us in the place that we work, where people work hard to live." VIEW OF QUARRY AND CITY CHILDREN WALKING THROUGH THE ANTANANARIVO MUNICIPAL RUBBISH DUMP VARIOUS OF PEOPLE SIFTING THROUGH THE DUMP MOTHER WITH CHILD ON HER BACK EXAMINING A PAIR OF DIRTY SHORTS AND THEN DROPPING IT RUBBISH DUMP CHILD HOLDING A CARTON AND STANDING ON THE DUMP SITE CHILDREN SEATED ON THE DUMP SITE WHILE THEIR PARENTS SCAVENGE WOMAN WITH CHILD ON HER BACK CARRYING LARGE SACK ON HER HEAD PEOPLE WORKING IN RUBBISH DUMP PEOPLE WALKING DOWN A VILLAGE STREET IN AKAMASOA RATSIORY FANOMEZANJANAHARY TSIADINO FANNIE PLAYING HOPSCOTCH WITH HER SIBLINGS RATSIORY'S SIBLINGS WATCHING AND CHEERING (SOUNDBITE) (Malagasy) STUDENT, RATSIORY FANOMEZANJANAHARY TSIADINO FANNIE, SAYING: "When we were in the countryside I didn't go to school. Well, I did but not that often. But when I came here, I saw my life transformed, God helped me and Father Pedro as well, so our lives have gotten better and better." ENTRANCE TO AKAMASOA CLINIC SIGN WITH FLAGS ATTACHED READING: ''AKAMASOA'' EXTERIOR OF RATSIORY FANOMEZANJANAHARY TSIADINO FANNIE'S HOUSE FLOWERS AND PICTURE ON WALL INSIDE HOUSE (SOUNDBITE) (Malagasy) MOTHER OF RATSIORY, ERLINE FANOMEZANJANAHARY TSIADINO FANNIE, SAYING: "Wow, I didn't expect it. I'm really, really happy. I, who was at the bottom of everything, will see my daughter talking to the pope. My heart is full of joy, I can't believe it because I had no education. I'm really happy." WORKERS ATTACHING A POSTER OF POPE ONTO LAMP POST (SOUNDBITE) (Malagasy) RESIDENT OF AKAMASOA NEIGHBOURHOOD, RAVONIHARINAIVO HAINGONIAINA SEHENOMANANA, SAYING: "I don't know what they've prepared me to say, but I will tell him I wish one of my kids will be like him one day." ANTANANARIVO STREET SCENE PICTURE OF POPE FRANCIS HANGING OVER STREET
- Embargoed: 16th September 2019 09:57
- Keywords: Granite Cathedral Pope Father Pedro Opeka Madagascar quarry
- Location: ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR
- City: ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR
- Country: Madagascar
- Topics: Religion/Belief,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA003AUYSYMF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:Three times a year, Father Pedro Opeka celebrates Mass in a vast, grey quarry in the hills above Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo. This Sunday (September 8) he'll have a very special guest at the granite altar where he ministers to his parishioners -- his old teacher, Pope Francis.
The son of a Slovenian mason, Father Opeka studied theology under the pope in their native Argentina when they were both young men, before dedicating his life to building communities for the people of Madagascar, one of the world's poorest nations.
Over the last half a century, Opeka's organisation has built homes for 25,000 people, 100 schools, six clinics and two football stadiums. Next year a college for paramedics will be the next project undertaken.
Much of the stone for that building is quarried just outside Antananarivo, from the huge granite pit, which can hold 10,000 people, where Opeka holds his masses. He refers to the pit as his cathedral.
The straight-talking, white-bearded Opeka invited Francis to visit during a meeting at the Vatican last year, never dreaming that he would accept. On Sunday, his request will bear fruit - and not just for him. As well as celebrating mass, the pope will meet some of the families whose lives have been changed by Father Opeka.
Ratsiory Fanomezanjanahary Tsiadino Fannie, a 13-year-old student and budding mathematician, lives in one of the homes Opeka has carved from the hillside. Her pastel green house sits on one side of a leafy courtyard where she plays hopscotch with her six siblings, a stone's throw from Opeka's own house in the hillside neighbourhood of Akamasoa.
Her life, and those of her brothers and sisters, have been changed by the new house.
"Our lives have gotten better and better," said Ratsiory, who is one of the people due to meet the pope, smiling happily at the idea.
Her proud mother Erline works in the canteen of the community's school, moving to the area with her children seven years ago. She speaks about how she will feel seeing her child speak with the pontiff. It's a far cry from the family's struggles to make ends meet before they moved.
"I, who was at the bottom of everything, will see my daughter talking to the pope. My heart is full of joy," said Erline.
Father Opeka has achieved an enormous amount on an island where more than 90 percent of its 25 million people live on less than $2 per day.
His motivation sprang from a visit to Antananarivo's municipal rubbish dump when he was just 22 years old, part of a Catholic mission to Madagascar. 800 people lived on the site and what he saw left him sleepless and praying for guidance.
A member of the Lazarist or Vincentian order of priests, founded to minister to the rural poor, Father Opeka created the Akamasoa Association to build and run the villages using donations from around the world. His work has earned him the Legion of Honour, France's highest order of merit.
He has no time for the bureaucracy and perks of many international aid agencies. Residents of neighbourhoods built by the association earn around 50,000 ariary ($13) per week in exchange for breaking rocks by hand and building stone walls. They are given a house which they rent at a negligible rate, depending on their circumstances.
Around 40 percent of Madagascar's population is Christian, so an enthusiastic welcome for Pope Francis is expected everywhere, but perhaps nowhere will it be warmer than the quarry that Father Opeka, and the people of Akamasoa themselves, have built.
(Production: Hereward Holland, Angela Ukomadu, Hywel Davies)
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