MUMBAI, India – Healing the earth is the task assigned to us by Pope Francis on the World Day of Prayer for Creation. It is also an opportunity to heal people’s addictions.
The day is marked on September 1. Originally established by the Orthodox Church in 1989, Pope Francis added it to the Catholic Church’s calendar in 2015, the same year he published his landmark ecological encyclical Laudato si’.
Father Joe Pereira, the founder of the India-based Kripa Foundation, said the pope’s call to care for the environment came “not a minute too soon.”
“In a world torn by man’s greed, he declared for Mother Earth, urging responsible consumption, accompanied at every step by corresponding methods of preserving and nurturing the blue planet,” the priest said.
The Kripa Foundation has a two-fold-mission: Treating those with chemical dependency and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. It has centers across India, as well as in Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Pereira said the foundation thought it should mark its 36 years of existence by honoring the pope with a program for “healing addiction by healing the earth.”
“As the addicts were loving their most abused and misused bodies, minds and souls back to life, simultaneously they could twin their efforts with the pope’s teaching on the environment,” he told Crux.
Inspired by Laudato si’, the Foundation established a kitchen garden and food forest at its facility in Goa, allowing patients to work the earth as part of their treatment.
Francis spoke about small-scale agriculture in his encyclical.
“In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity,” the pontiff writes. “For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing.”
Pereira said this method of rehabilitation was a “pro-life project” focusing “on the addict’s creative ability to heal Mother Earth.”
The garden is just over a half-acre, and is harvested three times a week, providing food not only for the facility, but also for the local community.
It includes vegetables, medicinal herbs, and fruit trees, and there are plans for poultry, aquaculture, and the establishment of bee hives.
“The potential yield is limited only by our own knowledge and imagination,” Pereira said.
But the priest says what is central to the garden project is recovery and occupational therapy, so the clients in recovery can benefit from food as well as a relaxing environment.
The center offers a skill development program to train clients in agricultural methods, which they can use after they leave the facility. The program is also available to other members of the local community.
“The curriculum includes both theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience via talks, workshops, internships and structured volunteering opportunities for short, mid and long-term,” Pereira told Crux. “And if you like what you see, replicating the initiative becomes easy.”
He said those suffering from addiction learn how to observe and care for a variety of vegetables from the moment of planting the seed to the joy of serving them at the dining table.
“An addict who is born for an ‘I-thou’ relationship feels lost and lonely and so develops an ‘I-It’ relationship. A variety of substitutes for love and intimacy such as drugs, sex, gambling, and pornography prevent an addict from a life-fulfilling occupation,” the priest continued.
Pereira said through agricultural therapy, a person suffering from addiction learns to see the will of God unfold in creation, and learns a spirituality of Creation. He said this also provides an awareness of – and perhaps a solution to – climate change.
“It is an excess of carbon in the atmosphere that is causing climate change. Industrial agriculture is accused of being one of the greatest contributors,” the priest explained.
He said those suffering from addiction can help to reverse climate change as they learn to reverse the negative influences in their own lives.
“Growing plants and trees they learn nature’s way of self-growth, self-actualization, and reverse the self-destructive energy into a life-fulfilling reservoir of creativity and meaning – Logos.”
In line with its Indian heritage, the Kripa Foundation uses a program which blends yoga with the 12-step system.
Pereira has decades of experience with yoga, and has worked closely with the Guruji B K S Iyengar School of Yoga in Pune.
“Iyengar Yoga helps addicts to love their most abused and misused bodies back to life,” he reiterated. “In a similar way, the idea of getting the addict to care for the Earth was visualized as a possible source of reflecting the same healing process in one’s own life.”