Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Real Freedom - An interview of Fr. Joe in the Newspaper


Thursday, August 15, 2013
Today is Independence Day, our 66th. Father Joe Pereira of the Kripa Foundation talks to Carol Andrade about another kind of freedom, from the bonds of addiction, and traces the journey that India’s largest NGO has made since August 15, 1981
The Kripa newsletter for April to June 2013, (Volume XXI, No. 2) is most enlightening. Founder Father Joe inaugurates a centre in Jaipur, he conducts yoga in Germany, moves to Katowice in Poland for another of his Europe programmes, gives special teaching on Kripa foundation Iyengar Yoga to 100 practitioners in Zurich at St. Jacob’s Church, concludes retreat in Frieberg, Germany, signs an Employment Assistance Program (EAP) with Tata Power for counselling on addiction, conducts drug awareness programmes in Bandra, Bareilly, Baroda, Guwahati, Imphal, Kolkata, and our own Dharavi.

One’s breath runs out long before the list does. Programmes in Ranchi, Vasai, Pune, Shillong, Kohima, Darjeeling, Pune, Guwahati, Varanasi, Dahanu, interventions, counselling, motivating, urging, talking and teaching. And it all began with three patients in residence, a priest, a doctor and a recovering alcoholic ‘as a role model for recovery and sobriety, in the compound of Mount Mary’s in Bandra, 32 years to the day today.

The largest NGO in India affiliated to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Kripa Foundation is synonymous both with its founder Fr Joe Pereira and with the eastern disciplines it uses to effect changes in various kinds of addictions. In particular, it is associated with Iyengar Yoga in which Fr Joe is an ardent practitioner and teacher, carrying his knowledge and experience to more than 120 countries, while he counts ten among them as partners in his collaborative venture – using eastern wisdom in a combination with Christian practice to help and heal.

Last Tuesday, we met Fr Joe at Mount Mary’s Church high on the hill in the midst of reparations for the Bandra Feast. At 71, he looks 20 years younger, slim, calm, unflappable, his cell phone a constantly ringing little animal always within reach.

“I put it off only to rest, for 90 minutes of yoga at the time when everyone else is having lunch, and for hid meditation, morning and evening. For the last three decades, his weight has held steady at around 75 kg, he eats two small meals a day with a couple of munchies in between, and has the energy levels of a much younger man.

Addiction is spreading
Wednesday evenings he teaches yoga on the first floor of the Church building in Bandra. Anyone can go. Every day is more or less filled with meetings up to 8.30 pm. That is when he is in town, of course. And every day he talks about addiction and the kind of havoc he has seen in a society devoted to materialism.

“You know, 45,000 people have passed through Kripa’s rehabilitation program in 18 states in the past three decades”, he mused. “And of them, only 400 are women. They just don’t come for treatment. But that is changing”.

What is intensifying, however, is the spread of addiction in all its forms. Choosing his words very carefully, Father Joe says, “The developing world is afflicted by a value system of affluence where self-gratification and entertainment are linked all the time to mind-altering substances. This is the mirage that our youngsters are falling prey to. They must realise that addiction is the hidden enemy of excellence, that institutions of excellence are being constantly threatened by this hidden enemy”.

He prefers not to call Kripa a treatment centre. “I am a health freak”, he says, and I prefer to refer kripa (meaning ‘grace’) as a re-learning centre. What are they re-learning? How to live again? And for me, these people are my primary agents for transformation. They are my wounded healers, the only chaps who can tell the world how to get well. Medicine, prayers, even religion cannot do this, but they can. This is because they connect on the human plane, exposing their vulnerability. And when they connect with people who need healing from their addictions, the power of god shines through their weakness”.

Non-judgemental love

The calls are constant on his phone, everyone, it seems, wants a piece of him. The flip side is you realise how deep and widespread the curse of addiction is, whether it is to alcohol, or to drugs, to sex or money or power. “At first”, he says, “I used to get affected, especially if I was faced with constant self-denial in someone we were trying to help. Earlier, I could never accept that some people are born that way. Now I accept that there are some people who cannot be helped because they cannot let go of pride. God resists the proud and raises the lowly. And accepting that there are some for whom nothing can be done makes it easier to continue the work for those who can be helped”.

What he does thank God for every day of his life is the gift of empathy, the ability to be completely non-judgmental while stretching out a hand.

Why is the Kripa Foundation formula so helpful for people in the throes of addiction? “Perhaps because it is a formula that understands that addicts are not bad, they are not to be condemned. It acknowledges that you are human and that we can love you back to life”, says this man who has taught yoga in a church in Zurich at a time when the jury still seemed out on whether the discipline is “unchristian”. But this teaching based on a “blend of Mother Teresa and Iyengar” has been embraced abroad with great enthusiasm and the Alcoholics Anonymous self-help programme has begun to add the “body element” in its 12-step program to its psycho-spiritual and psycho-social dimensions.

This has been done through the use of meditation in the eleventh of its 12-step plan for recovery. Father Joe calls this “a beautiful door for us Indians to yogic spirituality”.

Meanwhile, the work goes on. There is an 80-bedded hospital facility in Vasai for patients who now also include the AIDS afflicted. Father Joe wants to expand this into a convention and retreat centre. He declares that addiction afflicts the richest of the rich as well as the poorest of the poor, sometimes the former are actually the latter and they must be recognised as such. “What I am trying to do is making Jesus relevant for the worst among us”, he declares.

With the world poised to become much worse before it gets better, isn’t the prognosis completely bleak? He doesn’t believe that. What is needed, he says, is to help society reverse its goals from wants to needs, to get people to believe that the best healing involves the shifting of energies from self-gratification to self-denial, if this culture of addiction is to be reversed. Because it can be!

Meanwhile, he prepares his armies of “wounded healers” to go out and fight the good, fight locally, nationally and globally. Freedom from self is the greatest freedom of all.

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