Hope for the Hopeless
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
An important and successful ministry of the St. Andrew's and Mount Carmel's Prayer Groups, under the direction of the Health Care Centre of the Medical Mission Sisters of the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai, in the 70s, was reaching out to the drug addicts of Bandra. One of my former Bible students, who was very evangelistic, brought me to a well known psychiatric clinic to pray over a young drug addict. I recognized him to my astonishment as belonging to one of the most prominent families of my parish. His father was the president of the SVP, his uncle a well known parish priest, his brother a member of the parish pastoral council, but he was the black sheep of the family. He always stood outside the church for Mass and gazed at me during my sermons smoking his cigarette.
But it was a shock to the family when they discovered that he was an advanced drug addict, spending hundreds of rupees a day to feed his habit and prepared even to kill to get the money for his drugs. But his devout and devoted parents stood by him, "Son, we will pay all your debts, but we want to see you through." To my greater amazement his fiancee was also there, standing steadfastly by him.
I prayed over him, somewhat grudgingly, knowing that he would never come through. But he got up from his knees after the prayer and said confidently, "I am healed." Being aware how drug addicts make bewildering statements, I said, "Yes, the Lord will heal you in his own time," convinced that 'his own time' would never come. But he turned to his pious mother and repeated, "Mummy, I know that I am healed."
On my return to Mumbai from some retreats a month later, I went to my prayer group in St. Andrew's Primary School Hall, Bandra. And what a surprise was in store for me. For right there in the front row was Russell, whom I knew before as an 'outstanding' Catholic, now raising his hands in praise of God. I said within myself, "Lord, I don't know what you have done - but you have done 'something beautiful, something good'. After the meeting, even before I could go up to him to welcome him, he came straight up to me and just said, 'Thank you, Father!' He was always a man of few words.
Now don't get the idea that it was my prayer that did the trick. The process of healing began two months earlier when an Irish Redemptorist Mission Preacher and myself, both members of the National Service Team of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in India, were giving a Lenten Mission in Mt. Carmel's Church, my former parish. Russell was returning that evening from the city after taking his shot of heroin or brown sugar and providentially the taxi stalled exactly in front of the main entrance of the Church. As he was paying off the taxi he could not help hearing over the loud speaker system the words of the preacher. "There is no problem that a person has that God will not take away from him if he will but give it up to him." Those words made such a great impact on him that he entered the church and remained standing behind for the rest of the sermon.
After the Lenten Mission Service, Russell went to the sacristy behind the main altar to meet the preacher. "Father, is it true what you preached," he began straight away, "that there is no problem that the Lord will not take away, if one will but just surrender it to him?" "Of course, son, what is your problem?" "Father, I have been a drug addict for nine long years. I have been hospitalized three times. I have seen three of my best friends die of an overdose of drugs on my very lap. And I know that is going to be my end." He then cried out, "Father, is there no hope for me?"
The charismatic Irish Redemptorist replied in his gentle smiling voice, "Son, if you were the only person in the world with a problem just like yours, Jesus would have died only for you." Those simple but down-to-earth words made an even greater impact on him, leading him almost instinctively to make a sincere and thorough confession of his whole life. The first step of our journey to a new life is always being so exposed to God's Word, which will at first disturb the comfortable, but will then comfort the disturbed, that one is drawn to a deep inner repentance expressed in the admission and confession of one's sins.
But the withdrawal symptoms of his addiction remained enticing him to go back to his drugs. Unfortunately we were out of Mumbai for a retreat, but there is in Bandra, Mumbai, a House of Prayer, 'Prathnalaya' (in Hindi), run by the 'Pious Disciples of Jesus Master', where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed the whole day. Somehow Russell in his despair could only think of going there (For 'The Master is here and wants to see you', Jn 11:28). He cried out to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to take away his withdrawal pains which had become unbearable, (For 'He who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved' Acts 4:12). Within half an hour all those pains just disappeared.
But he still needed to be admitted to a Rehabilitation Clinic to cope with the drug dependence itself. It was here that the Church crossed the threshold with its pastoral ministry of intercessory prayer, (For 'All the time Peter was under guard, the church prayed to God for him unremittingly', Acts 12:5). It therefore looked as if Russell went through all the three steps of healing of and deliverance from his drug addiction: exposure to the Word of God leading him to faith, being present before our Eucharistic Lord leading him to love, and praying together with the Domestic Church (his family) and the Church Minister (myself) leading him to hope.
But how long would this last? Fortunately Russell made use of two crucial helps of the Church: (1) Prayer - He would spend hours every day talking to Jesus in the Prayer House, edifying even his priest uncle. "It is only my daily prayer time," he would confide to me, "that is keeping me away from the attraction and temptation of drugs." (2) Fellowship - He would drop in regularly at the Parish House just to talk to me in order to receive ongoing support and encouragement.
Before long, seeing his miraculous transformation, other drug addicts started coming to him for guidance and support. "If you, India's worst drug addict could come out of it, there is hope for us too." He soon started, also with my advice and encouragement, India's first ever drug rehabilitation centre in the Catholic Church in Bombay and in Goa, with the mission of rehabilitating other drug addicts and spreading God's message of hope. He would send all his boys to make the five days charismatic retreat with us at Pallotti Home, in Goa. To our surprise every one of them wanted above all to know God and to learn how to pray. Later on we joined hands together with an Irish priest and an Austrian lay missionary to organize the first drug rehabilitation training program in the Catholic Church in Goa.
I thought that the end had come to this extraordinary enterprise, when unfortunately Russell, in the prime of his mission as a beacon of light, was drowned in the sea at Vagator Beach, off Goa, where had just been established a centre for Western youth caught up in questionable eastern religious experiences and in drugs. But it was only another new beginning of his work, 'Seva Dhan', under the inspiration of his loyal wife Clema. Recently I attended the Silver Jubilee program on Seva Dhan in St. Andrew's Auditorium, Bandra, the highlight of which was a short power point presentation of the life and legacy of Russell. I was touched when Clema made a special mention of me as the 'confessor and confidante of Russell', for the role of every priest and pastor, is not to be so much a healer or a deliverer, as to be the confessor of the heartbroken and the confidante of the browbeaten.
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