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Pope conducts mass in Madagascar quarry

In the hills above Antananarivo on 8 September, the Pontiff celebrated Mass from behind a large granite altar within the Mahatazana stone quarry as part of a six-day African trip, which also included Mozambique and Mauritius.

For many years the quarry, near the hillside community of Akamasoa, has provided essential granite to build homes and amenities for surrounding communities. The Mahatazana quarry itself has been carved out by some of Madagascar’s poorest, many of whom live on $USD1.90 ($AUD2.75) a day.

Catholic priest Father Pedro Opkea studied theology under the then pope-in-waiting Jorge Mario Bergoglio in their Argentinean homeland before devoting his life to the communities of Madagascar as a missionary many years ago.

{{quote-A:R-W:175-Q:“During a visit to the Vatican last year, Father Opkea extended an invitation to Pope Francis and asked him to assume his spot at the alter. It was a long shot that paid off”}}Using the quarried granite, his organisation, the Akamasoa Association, has been responsible for building homes for 25,000 people, 100 schools, six clinics, two football stadiums, and soon a college for paramedics, Reuters reports.

Such is the quarry’s importance to the city, Opeka transforms it into an outdoor cathedral three times a year. During a visit to the Vatican last year, Opkea extended an invitation to his former mentor to assume his spot at the altar. It was a long shot that paid off.

During the two-day visit, Pope Francis went to a development project on the edge of a former garbage dump, where many of the quarry workers live. He praised them for building their own homes, and said their labour was "a song of hope that refutes and silences any suggestion that some things are ‘inevitable’”, according to a transcript.

"Let us say it forcefully: Poverty is not inevitable!" he said, urging residents to "never stop fighting the disastrous effects of poverty [and] never yield to the temptation of settling for an easy life or withdrawing into yourselves”.

Francis then traversed the hill from the development to the quarry where he prayed with 700 employees, asking that God "soothe their wearied frames, that they may tenderly caress their children and join in their games”.

To view the Pope’s “Prayer for workers” during the mass, visit The Catholic News Service website.







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