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“Doubt never succeeded in my life or in my fight”

Father Pedro Opeka on exclusive worldwide note for An essential Argentine of fraternal and corajuda hand in these times “where we want to be great without others.”

Pedro Opeka is called “God's mason.” Others talk about the Saint of Madagascar.  Pedro, born in San Martín, Buenos Aires province, skillful with the ball, gambetes the world's journalists and is still silent raising another home in Akamasoa, a community that before his arrival was a garbage dump, and is now a thriving neighborhood just outside Antananarivo, the country's capital.  With the experience of missioning in southern Argentina and in Vangaindrano, south of the great African island, and understanding that poverty is not an eternal curse, nor a human condition, but is working and studying, without assistance,  this Lazarist Father combines courage and kindness to rebel against the injustices here and there.   And he rescues the forgotten fraternity of the humanist triad. If there is no love and respect for others, real commitment and not “charlatanie of politicians and humanists in NGOs,” he says, it is difficult for freedom and justice to coexist between men and women. “Don't forget that helping a poor is to help yourself,” he repeats while  he usually escapes reports, does not give notes regularly, and avoids large charity events sponsored by multinationals.  

 It is not about angelizing the poor in Opeka's humanitarian work, which has provided the tools to 500,000 people since 1990 to live a dignified existence.   In  Rebel por amo r (Editorial Bonum), a series of Pierre Lunel interviews with Opeka, says Father: “A few days ago I was called to go see a man who had tried to burn inside his house... a house for us is a treasure... every family needs a roof to develop... man was saved by miracle what joy!... but... if that house had burned, that meant a homeless family!... I expressed all my happiness to him, and then I rebuked him! ”, paints the iron hand of  a man who promoted the construction of 3,000 houses, 22 neighborhoods and infrastructure to house 29,000 people; and school 13,000 young people, at all levels of education, in 2017 alone . The construction of water networks, schools at all levels, hospitals, nurseries, museums, sports courts, green spaces and libraries are detailed at . And working the Malagasy people from sun to sun moving to Father Opeka himself, “once it rained a lot and I asked women with children not to go to work in the quarry. One of them restructured me, who will feed my children? the spark that was lighting in my heart... that was rebellion. Rebish in the name of love for your brothers and there you will find the joy of living.”  Who said everything is lost? Opeka comes to offer her Argentine heart.  

Journalist: Why missionary in Madagascar at twenty?

Father Opeka: At the time I decided to be a missionary, 52 years ago, they were times of great ideals. We lived in a world where giving life for others was exemplary and heroic. And because when you are young you have audacity, strength and faith.

My faith is in Jesus, the great revolutionary in his time, who loved the poor and committed himself to them to death. Jesus of Nazareth of the Gospels excited me and I want to imitate him until today.

 My departure from Argentina was not a flight to  Africa  but a human and spiritual adventure with going, and without going, at that time. That's why I cried when I left and left the country!  God wanted me to visit Argentina again because technological progress has allowed it.

Q: Almost 50 years on the African island, working in the South and the capital, with thousands of lives transformed into the culture of work and education, did you have any doubt?

PO: Half a century of presence in these lands of Madagascar have made me grow in every sense. Here I have seen life in its great simplicity from birth to death. There was a lot of solidarity here in the seventies. I have learned that life when it is simpler, happier you live. However, we must have a minimum necessary in order to live properly and dignibly. I've seen many death dramas. Death was always present at all times. Here life is a mixture of joy and sadness. And you have to rejoice with those who are happy, and cry with those who suffer. Difficult to move from one posture to the other because feelings can't be automatic.

 Doubt never succeeded in my life or in my fight.  My pain here in Madagascar is the inertia and fatality of policymakers who do not do what is necessary for families with numerous children, and do not work for the development of their People. Their compatriots live abandoned, and without any right, something that every human being should have.

At one point, I had a lot of trouble in the face of the injustice of not worrying about educating boys and girls. Good people followed their traditional way of life, and without realizing this problem, it used to be thus a brake on human progress and development. There are inexcusable beliefs in the times in which we live, where human beings know better with technology, science, anthropology and human psychology. There came a time of dictatorship in Madagascar where everyone had to be equal and no one had the right to be different. That situation did us a lot wrong, it was terrible and demoralizing!

Q: Is Zero Poverty a utopia or a concrete possibility?

PO: I don't think zero poverty is a utopia because we have all the technical means, the most sophisticated, to feed every child on Earth.  Actually, we should have resolved and overcome hunger in the world for a long time. We lack only the will and the generosity.  

We can also heal important diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. We could also provide drinking water to all humans, build schools, dispensaries, routes and decent houses for all families.  But to reach that we would have to be more human, less selfish, more supportive and more sober in the use of our Earth's raw materials in favor of all.  

Today without any shame we are exploding the Earth, the sea and the air and so we are poisoning ourselves.  We want to be great selfishly, without the others.  There is a lot of pride and arrogance in the leaders, and a part of the People, who only thinks about getting rich at all costs, they don't care about the victims, everything is worth, the good, the mediocre, the bad. We lack discernment.

Q: Do you think that your experience of Madagascar is adaptable to other realities like Argentina? How do you imagine it?

PO : Every human experience lived with respect and love can be adapted to all realities and situations where human beings live on our Earth . We must accept that every human person is different, that he has his history, his culture, his mentality and his way of being particular. We must adapt to all these different human realities, and from there, reach the hearts of the people with whom we live and work.

I am convinced that in all the Peoples of Earth we can live and adapt human and spiritual virtues and values because  human beings are essentially sensitive to respect, love and sharing riches.  Love has no borders, neither racial, ideological, nor religious.

Q: How to be a man of Faith, a person who wants to help others, in a 21st century with so many cracks, and broken after the pandemic?

PO: Being a man of Faith is not a privilege that has fallen me from Heaven, although Faith is a free gift from the Creator. But  to keep that Faith alive, and in action, we must continually fight every day, and face all the challenges, even the most unimaginable.  

Nothing is done automatically or by heart, that is, repeat as a robot without mood, or human and spiritual values.  Faith pushes me to live a continuous fight between good and evil  . Many times we believe that we should learn prayers by memory. Do such a rite that one feels safe and strong to perform important works. But it's not like that. Faith is an endless search in this life. Every human action begins in fragility. Like the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.  Everything tends to collapse, only Faith, hope and love help to follow this daily struggle.  

To believe in God-Love is to live without certainty, it is to live groped, it is to live without barriers, without customs but with absolute trust that love will always overcome evil.  For love it is worth living and giving life for your friends and brothers.  

But the mentality that the consumer society tries to impose on our time is to have fun, is to win, is to take advantage of others and take care of itself and the rest does not matter. That is why today we live in a world full of indifference, of each one to himself.  Individualism seemingly reigns in many of our brothers and sisters.  

This mentality will always exist and those who will live from love, fraternity and justice will be a minority.   It is a reality until something happens globally so that every human being asks about the meaning and purpose of his life. This coronavirus pandemic can be a test that will awaken and tilt humanity as a whole. Understand that we live not only to be consumers but to be brothers and solidarity with each other.  And millions of  young people  have that ideal in every country of the world. They are the salt of the Earth, the light of the world.  

Q: From being Argentinean, what things do you think influenced his work and behavior?

PO: I think it was  joy, creole vividness, to be sincere and  give a hand  to those who need help  . When I left Argentina on August 20, 1968 to go to Madagascar there was a lot of fraternity and solidarity among the Argentines and, also, spontaneity among the people. Then life became complicated and many of those values were diluted into an easier and more individual life. When I came to Madagascar that spontaneity, fraternity, and above all joy, was well accepted. The little ones who are normally afraid of white, because of the joy I lived, have accepted me quickly.  The fact that they know how to live without prejudice between different races, this impacted them, and they began to make me trust.  And when trust is born everything is possible!

Football helped me a lot, too. Playing with them under a terrible sun at two o'clock in the afternoon, getting kicks and elbow, like any player, we played equal weapons. And when we scored a goal we celebrated it together, hugging and pulling each other on each other.  We were already brothers of the same dignity.   My first friends gave me football and the swollen always supported and protected me while I played in Argentine club inferiors.

Q: Please tell us how  Hero arrives, and the preparations for the choreography among the young people of Akamasoa on a topic of the Argentine group.

PO: I met  Hero  by my sisters who had sent the song (“ United for Peace”)  that they created thinking about men and women who have fought for freedom, justice, human rights and peace in the history of mankind.

His song struck me and reached my heart because I felt that the message of Alejandro, Federico and Sebastián is to awaken in today's young people a commitment to peace. In addition, the boys sing with conviction, putting life and strength in their voices.  That cry for justice comes to your soul.  

It is also true that when a human being listens to a beautiful song, and if words carry a profound message, that message passes faster to people, and especially to young people.  In Akamasoa we have more than 15,000 young people who have a lot of talents and especially for music . There is a lot of singing here and that is why there is joy and hope.

Q: What are your words to a poor child by 2021?

PO:  First I would tell you that all children are equal in dignity and rights. That childhood is the most beautiful time of our life because we are sincere, humble, authentic and always ready to help and have confidence in others . As children we believe with simplicity, and without waiting for thanks, we help with love.

I would tell the boy, or the girl never lose their soul, sincerity and trust. Life continues, never stops, with good and bad, and now think about others, help and share. I would also tell you that children give us the will and courage to fight for a better and fairer world, which prepares for you, and that you children will later in turn have to do the same for those who will happen them. Life is a step on this Earth, and its meaning is never to lose Faith, and hope, and that Love is possible and forgiveness too.

In the end, I would tell the boy and the girl that life is a struggle. That everything remains to be done. Nothing is eternal and everything changes. We live to sow seeds of love, hope, fraternity and friendship! Life is beautiful when we live it in this state of spirit! All for one and one for all!  

Thanks in production: Daniel Pérez

Rating: 5.00/5.