The Pope and a Farm of Hope
GUARATINGUETA, Brazil, MAY 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI will visit Saturday a “Fazenda da Esperanca” (Farm of Hope) in Guaratingueta. The “fazendas” are centers for the rehabilitation of drug addicts and are present in several countries.
The rehabilitation center in Guaratingueta was founded in 1983 by Franciscan Father Hans Stapel, 62, and is located 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the shrine of Aparecida. Today there are 31 “fazendas” throughout Brazil.
In this interview with ZENIT the German priest comments on the success of the centers — 84% overcome addiction — and his expectations for the Pope’s visit.
Q: What is the secret of your success in fighting drug abuse?
Father Stapel: I believe the secret lies in the fact that we are simple and uncomplicated: We live the Gospel, we work and take joy in our work and live like a family. In every house there are between 12-14 young people, so there is an opportunity for dialogue, to work together and — this is important — to conform their lives according to the Gospel.
The Gospel is a school of love, where we learn to be there for one another and not think about ourselves. When we can be freed from ourselves, then the real problem is solved.
What leads someone to drugs is often other addictions that come from being selfish. What we need to do is stop being so focused on ourselves.
Q: In general, how can a person avoid what you call the “prison of addiction”?
Father Stapel: It happens when we are able to come out of ourselves. We must think of others. Only in others can we find ourselves.
Me, me, me — I must find myself — this is today’s mentality and it is fatal. I only find myself when I love others.
Q: How are the young people who are here now able to accomplish this first step of liberation from self?
Father Stapel: By coming to us and learning this new way of life being lived by the others who are already here. In that way they can adopt this new way of life automatically. The all start work early in the morning, they try to live God’s word together and then they can understand the rest.
When they have problems in the beginning we talk about it in a very concrete way, never theoretically. They don’t take courses or anything like that, we live life. This is the secret. They must begin. Life is easy. Wherever things are complicated, the divine element is missing and there is only the human element at work.
God said things very clearly: Whatever you do to the least of my people and your neighbor, you do it to me. When you begin living for others you experience joy. Whoever gives is received; whoever is lost is found. This is the secret.
The people living here practice this and feel happy. And when someone is happy they have no need of anything else. One begins using drugs because they are looking for happiness. They use sex and drugs to be happy.
Q: What are your expectations for the Pope’s visit here in particular, and to Brazil in general?
Father Stapel: The great thing is that the Pope will leave his mark here. The Pope is essentially saying: I am going to visit those who are excluded, those who are not accepted by society but are instead labeled as thieves or unwanted. The Pope is coming to visit them and in this way is giving them a heightened sense of value. This is very important. This is the way he will leave his mark here.
The Church has always been on the side of the poor, this is her vocation. There is no faith without works. If I believe in God and I don’t act concretely with acts of love then my faith is just theory.
Therefore my life and the lives of those around me will not change.
In coming here the Pope is giving this sign. He is saying to these young people: You are not prodigal sons! You are loved by the heavenly Father! He loves you and needs you. You have the opportunity to evangelize and to help others; you have the chance to start a new life because, with God, there is always a second chance.
What he is saying to them is what he wrote in his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”: “God is love.” And that is fantastic!