Poverty is not something foreordained or inevitable, Pope Francis told young people in Madagascar on Sunday. He said poverty must be fought against and overcome.
The pope visited Akamasoa, the “City of Friendship,” a community founded 30 years ago for very poor families by a former student of Pope Francis, Father Pedro Pablo Opeka, an Argentine missionary.
“It is a great joy for me to meet you in this great work,” Francis said. “Akamasoa is the expression of God’s presence in the midst of his poor people; not a sporadic, circumstantial presence, but the presence of a God who decided to live and always remain in the midst of his people.”
Some 8,000 brightly dressed young people were present to greet the pope with songs and chants.
“Seeing your radiant faces,” the pope said, “I thank the Lord who has heard the cry of the poor and who has manifested his love with concrete signs such as the creation of this town.”
“Your cries that arise from the powerlessness of living without a roof, of seeing your children grow up malnourished, of joblessness, because of the indifferent — not to say disdainful — gaze of so many, have become songs of hope for you and for all who contemplate you,” he said.
“Every corner of these neighborhoods, every school or clinic is a song of hope that denies and silences all inevitability,” he added. “Let us say it loudly: poverty is not an inevitability.”
“This town is the result of many years of hard work” and “has a long history of courage and mutual help,” Francis said. “In its foundations we find a living faith that has been translated into concrete acts, capable of ‘moving mountains.’”
This faith has “allowed us to see possibility where only precariousness was seen, to see hope where only hopelessness was seen, to see life where so many announced death and destruction,” he said, reminding the people of the saying of the apostle Saint James: “Faith without works is dead.”
Part of the legacy of Akamasoa, Francis said, is an education in values instilled by Father Opeka, resulting in an “enormous treasure of effort, discipline, honesty, respect for themselves and others.”
This has led the town to comprehend “God’s dream” of personal development and especially the progress of the whole community, he said, since there is no worse slavery “than for each person to live only for himself.”
Dear young people of Akamasoa, the pope concluded, “never cross your arms before the dire effects of poverty, and never succumb to the temptations of the easy path or of locking yourselves in yourselves.”
“Let the gifts that the Lord has given you flourish in you. Ask him to help you put yourself at the service of your brothers and sisters with generosity. Thus, Akamasoa will not only be an example for future generations, but much more,” he said.