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Kick the habit in our churches

The Church in South Africa can learn from the experiences of sister Churches around the world. One such learning is in the outreach she is prepared to offer from within her own walls to help her addicted faithful kick the habit asserts Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

An article about a parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, United States, launching a new addiction ministryto bring rehabilitation to those facing addiction struck a chord.

“We have a big opiate crisis in Pittsburgh, like every big city,” reported Fr Michael Decewicz, himself a recovering alcoholic. and a driving force behind Addiction Recovery Ministry (ARM).

“How can we as Church respond in love to the addicted and the afflicted? This is our chance as Church, as people of God to reach out to those who are suffering addictions and afflicting their loved ones”, the priest told Catholic News Agency (CNA).

The ministry not only helps recovering addicts but their families. Through a holistic approach that includes the spirituality of recovery and the cultivation of close personal relationships, ARM seeks to restore the lost dignity of all those who suffer addiction directly or indirectly.

Replace “Pittsburgh” with the name of any town or city in South Africa and you would find that the same scenario is likely to play itself out.

South Africa also has “a big opiate crisis”. What we do not have in our local Church — and need as desperately — is a response similar to that of the Church in Pittsburgh.

South Africa also has “a big opiate crisis”. What we do not have in our local Church … is a response similar to that of the Church in Pittsburgh.

More often than not, we blame gang wars for what in reality is  a trade battle for narcotics territory. 

Every year, the country spends millions fighting against drug dealers. And millions more spend the limited cash they have feeding the beast of addiction.

November 2017 report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington DC, reported that: “In June 2017, South African police seized 500 million rand worth of cocaine (approximately $36 million) and 104 million rand worth of heroin ($7.7 million) in separate raids in Western Cape province.”

Addiction is not just a problem for the underclasses. It affects everyone, regardless of their class or whether they spend most of their time at Mass — and whether on the sanctuary or in the pews.

It is our problem. That is why it should be everyone’s responsibility to help fight back. It is difficult to think of a better venue than the Church to take on the demonic manifestation that is drugs. 

It is difficult to think of a better venue than the Church to take on the demonic manifestation that is drugs. 

ARM began on 10 February 2019, with a Mass of Healing from Addiction. An estimated 200 people came together. Those battling addictions received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

The opening took place closed just a day before the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, on 11 February 2019. 

Decewicz told CNA that the proximity to the feast not only “correlates to the healing miracles of Lourdes, but also emphasised that addiction is a disease, not a moral choice.”

Anointing of the sick “can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” according to the Code of Canon Law.

The ARM programme will include monthly opportunities for education on the disease of addiction and spiritual nourishment, which may include “a talk on the spirituality of recovery and addiction” and “opportunities for one-on-one encounters”,said Fr Decewicz.

In their interview with Decewicz, CNA reported that the priest-addict saw this ministry as “an opportunity for evangelization. “The results might not be immediate, he said, but these are moments to plant the seeds of the faith and help people, who have often been wounded by organised religion, reconsider the Church.

… the priest-addict saw this ministry as “an opportunity for evangelization

“God calls us in our brokenness. We need to spread that message that God touches us in our brokenness and in our frailty. To bring a message of compassion and empathy… to affirm the dignity of every human being regardless of what they are suffering” 

Catholic churches, particularly in our South African townships, have often played a social and even a political role. 

The parish of Regina Mundi in Soweto, for example, is famous for being the theatre of many anti-apartheid meetings and funerals of political activists.

With the country facing a foe worse than apartheid, the question to be asked is how does the Church use its infrastructure for the greater good of society?

As was the case with apartheid, drugs affect all of us directly, or indirectly, affecting even those who though it was someone else’s problem. 

… how does the Church use its infrastructure for the greater good of society? … As was the case with apartheid, drugs affect all of us …

As was the case with apartheid, there is something the church can do, to borrow from Decewicz, “[t]o bring a message of compassion and empathy… to affirm the dignity of every human being regardless of what they are suffering.”

We don’t have to invent the wheel. We just need to look to Pittsburgh for the impetus.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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