Pedro Opeka, CM
Pedro Opeka (June 29, 1948 - ) is a priest of the Congregation of the Mission (ordained September 28, 1975 in Buenos Aires) who has served in Madagascar since 1970. He was born in San Martin, Argentina, a suburb of Buenos Aires, to parents who had emigrated from Slovenia to escape the totalitarian regime of Tito. He learned the trade of masonry from his father, a mason, and he was also a talented footballer. He speaks Slovenien, Spanish, French, Italian, English and Malagasy.
At age 15 he entered seminary and at 20 continued formation in Ljubljana, Slovenia Yugoslavia, the homeland of his parents. He first served in Madagascar in 1970, working as a mason in Vincentian parishes. There he was aware of a call to mission work. He finished studies at the Catholic Institute in Paris and also became, in the course of travels in Europe, acquainted with the community at Taizé.
After ordination, Father Pedro was appointed to Vangaindrano, a rural parish of the south-east of Madagascar. In 1989 Father Pedro was transferred from Vagaindrano, in the south-east of Madagascar, to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, to direct the Vincentian seminary. Thousands of families in Antananarivo lived in tremendous poverty, so-called "garbage people". Some had been driven by authorities away from the city center to the hills of Ambohimahitsy and Andralanitra where there was no aid at all for them.
Pope John Paul II visited Madagascar (April 29 to May 2 1989). During the visit, Father Pedro was among a large group of young people who had gone to see the Pope. A little girl who was carrying her brother on her back somehow evaded the police guard and went to the Pope on the podium. The pope took the little girl in his arms and, Father Pedro said, "It was as if the Pope was embracing all the misery of the world." He felt a call to begin direct service to these people.
On May 29, 1989 Father Pedro visited some of the families. He found "lodgings" built of boxes and scavenged rusty metal and conditions of hunger, filth, and sickness. Families were being broken up, drug use and alcoholism were rampant, mothers were becoming prostitutes to support their children, and children were having to forage in dumps. Violence dominated everything.
For initial aid, Father Pedro approached religious communities of Antananarivo, who were able to provide a little money and other support. He suggested to some Malagasy university students he knew that they begin to reach out to the poor and, although they did not know exactly how to respond, they were willing to do so. From this beginning, Akamasoa was founded in January, 1990 as a non-governmental organization (NGO) to foster and coordinate relationships with government entities, private organizations, foreign embassies, and world-wide organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid.
The Kiwanis International awarded Father Pedro their 2005 World Service Medal for his work.
Father Pedro is a member of the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change.