The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, has announced the recipients of the St. Matthew Foundation Awards for outstanding service in solidarity and social justice. One of the recipients this year is the Argentinean Fr. Pedro Opeka, who has worked with the poor in Madagascar since 1989.
The St. Matthew Foundation was created in memory of the late Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Van Thuan, who died in 2002, and whose cause for beatification is underway. The foundation promotes initiatives that encourage the presence of the Church in society through study and the spreading of the Church’s social doctrine.
Father Opeka’s life
The AICA news agency reports that Argentinean writer Jesus Silveyra, in his book “A Trip to Hope,” written after visiting Madagascar, says the following about Father Opeka:
He was ordained a priest in 1975 and returned to the African island to be pastor of the parish of Vagaindrano Mission in the southeastern jungle of the island. For fifteen years he was devoted to the education of hundreds of young people. As he became accustomed to living among the poor and the needy, and because of the inhospitable nature of the region, he contracted various stomach ailments, as well as malaria.
In 1989, with the help of many of his former university students who had been taught by him, he founded the Akamasoa Humanitarian Association, which in Malgache means, “good friends,” in order to serve the marginalized and excluded.
Silveyra explains that after sixteen years of service, some 17,000 people live in the five villages created by the Association; 8,500 children attend its schools; and 3,500 people are employed by the Association.
“Each town has a food bank and has opened a hospital. More than 200,000 people (1.5% of the country’s entire population) have passed through its Support Center, where they have received temporary assistance and guidance in redirecting their lives,” Silveyra wrote.