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Swapping drugs for God in Vietnam

Addicts use the rosary to help them kick the habit

Prayer is a central part of life at this rehab center Prayer is a central part of life at this rehab center
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hue city
  • Vietnam
  • October 19, 2012
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A Benedictine monk and former drug abuser is now working with addicts to break their habit - with the help of the rosary.

Every day at 2 pm, a group of 20 people with drug problems join Benedictine Father Francis Xavier Tran An to say the rosary in the chapel of the Huong Thien Center for Drug Rehabilitation.

The center is in Quang Tri province, at the nationally known Marian Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang.

With the rosary completed, the residents' group sits and quietly reflects on a reading given by Father An.

One of the group, Simon Cao Van Ha, says he tries to stay focused on the Marian statue while reciting the rosary, although his bleary eyes, lack of sleep and history of drug abuse can make concentration difficult.

The rosary is a practice he had not followed for 20 years. But now he says it "helps me to get close to God and feel peace, forgiveness and mercy from Him and Mother Mary.”

Ha, who became an addict in 2008, admits he has stolen valuables and been paid to threaten or injure people in order to support his habit. His exploits led to his imprisonment for a year.

“Now I make up my mind to hold the rosary in my hand instead of a knife,” he says.

He has tried to beat the habit before, without success. For a year and a half he attended a state-run center in Ha Tinh province, taking a  treatment that cost three million dong (US$150) a month. "But I didn't give up drugs," he says, "because they were being sold in the center."

With Father An's guidance, his daily routine includes a regimen of spiritual reading, physical exercise, cooking and looking after bonsai trees. Now at 50 kgs, he is putting on weight.

“I suffer from fits," he says, "but when I have one here, Father An and other people are around me. They look after me and pray for me to get over it. Now I can control the fits by myself.”

Another of the residents, Etienne Nguyen Quang Dung has been at the center for two months and  says the daily prayers have brought him peace of mind. When he gets fit and drug-free, he has resolved to join the Benedictines himself.

Father An, 42, has a long association with the rosary and feels that he owes a lot to it. "I believe Mother Mary saved me after my mother said the rosary for 10 years, praying for me to quit drugs," he says.

“Now I want to use the rosary to save other drug abusers who are abandoned by their own families and society."

As well as providing them with a prayerful and productive life, father An places great emphasis on teaching the residents to treat one another with humanity and respect.

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