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Rome Reports

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Pedro Opeka, missionary who rescued thousands of people from the dumpster

Argentinian Pedro Opeka (70) came to Rome to tell his story to Pope Francis, and as it worked out, also to the press.

He is from St. Vincent de Paul's Congregation of the Mission, and as a young man he went to Madagascar as a missionary. While there he learned the Malagasy language and worked in rice fields. However, he got sick and had to move to the capital, Antananarivo, where he changed his life.

Congregation of the Mission (Madagascar)
"The next week I went to the dumpster. When I saw a thousand children fighting over the trash between them and the dogs, I was speechless. I said to myself, 'I have no right to speak, here we must act.' That night I could not sleep. I got down on my knees by the bed, raised my hands and I asked, 'Lord, help me do something for those children.'"

The next day he returned to the landfill and met with the people who lived there. Or rather, who survived there. 

Congregation of the Mission (Madagascar)
"They said to me, 'Are you going to enter that dumpster, four feet high made of cardboard and plastic?' I said, 'If you enter, then I enter too.' He went in on all fours, and I followed him on all fours. When I entered, I introduced myself, 'I am a priest, missionary.' It all started there, when we said, 'If you want, we can help your children have a future.' 'Yes, we want this for our children.' Then we started working, and 30 years later we have constructed a city."

In three decades, people's lives have transformed. This priest has employed thousands of people and helped them build the city, Akamasoa, to prove that poverty does not have the last word.

Their neighborhoods are normal with houses, parks, churches and even soccer stadiums. Sunday Mass also has a privileged place.

Congregation of the Mission (Madagascar)
"Tourists come to our Masses, because two or three tourist guides say that if you are in Antananarivo, go to Mass in Akamasoa. Atheists, also come. One said to me, 'Father, I am an atheist but today something has happened to me, I am not the same.' I said, 'Straighten everything out with the One up there.' I never invite anyone, people come on their own. I ask them, 'What are you doing here? Who invited you?' Then I tell them, 'You are God's guests, so we must welcome you.'"

Pedro Opeka has been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, but he doesn't seem to care. He is proud, because he has given a future of hope to thousands of people. That is his prize.