Rome, Italy, Jun 10, 2011 / 15:08 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Father Pedro Opeka traveled to Rome this week to share his testimony as a missionary and to raise awareness in the world of the opportunity to eradicate poverty.
“The poor have evangelized me!” exclaimed the Argentinean missionary priest who works in Madagascar.
Fr. Pedro is giving three talks in Rome this week entitled, “Overcoming poverty: the testimony of Fr. Pedro.”
Fr. Pedro explained to CNA that he wants to send the message of the Gospel to the world so that “everyone on this earth, everyone on this planet, will be brothers and sisters and (will) help one another.”
“In this world where there is so much wealth, there should not be thousands of people who live in hunger. This is an injustice that cries out to heaven.”
Africa and Madagascar is a continent of great suffering, said Fr. Pedro, who has been working in Madagascar for 40 years.
“My message is one of solidarity, of sharing what we have, because the wealth we have has been given to us to share, because what I don’t need goes to waste. There is an Indian proverb that says, ‘Why save something when there is a neighbor who needs it?’” the priest said.
Fr. Pedro said poverty can be overcome by imitating Jesus Christ.
“I can say today, it is possible to overcome poverty. It is possible to return to the poor their dignity as children of God. I live amidst a people in poverty, a people living in extreme poverty, and with dignity, faith and compassion we lift ourselves out of this extreme poverty,” he said.
Father Pedro’s story
Pedro Pablo Opeka was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1948. His parents, Luis Opeka and Maria Marolt, were Slovenian immigrants who came to the country in January of 1948 to escape communism in Slovenia.
At the age of 18, he entered the seminary of the Congregation for the Mission of St. Vincent de Paul in San Miguel, Argentina. Two years later he traveled to Europe to study philosophy in Slovenia and theology in France. He then spent two years as a missionary in Madagascar.
In 1975 he was ordained a priest at the Basilica of Lujan, and in 1976 he returned to Madagascar, where he has remained to this day.
Upon seeing the desperate poverty in the capital city of Antananarivo, especially at the landfills where people live in cardboard boxes and children compete with pigs for food, he decided to do something for the poor.
In 1990, he founded the Akamasoa Humanitarian Association, which means “Good Friends,” in order to serve those in need.
With help from abroad and the work of the people of Madagascar, he founded small villages, schools, food banks, small businesses and even a hospital.
Today, the five villages he founded are home to more than 17,000 people, 60 percent of which are children under the age of 15. Some 9,500 children attend his schools and the Association provides employment to more than 3,500 people.
Some 300,000 people have received aid in one form or another from the Association.
Father Pedro has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on numerous occasions and has been the recipient of numerous awards in Europe, including the Cardinal Van Thuan Prize for Development and Solidarity, given to him by the Vatican in 2008.