ADDICTED TO HEROIN? PRAY AND BE CURED; Nuns offer Irish addicts chance to kick the habit by meditating.
DESPERATE Irish drug addicts are being helped kick their habit - on a diet of prayer.
And the revolutionary drug treatment programme is curing up to a remarkable 80 per cent of addicts.
Run by the Cenacolo Religious Community in the West of Ireland, it uses neither counselling nor methadone replacement.
Instead, the drug-busting centre uses prayer and meditation to help addicts help themselves.
The centre in Co Mayo has treated people addicted to everything from heroin to cocaine.
Founded by Italian nun Sr Elvira Petrozzi, the centre has 50 houses worldwide. The first one opened in 1983 in Saluzzo, Italy, in a villa leased for just EUR1 a year from the local authorities.
Treating addicts using prayer, meditation and hard work, the original project was such a success that new centres soon opened across the world.
The project in Aughtaby, near Knock, opened in 1999. It has residential room for 16 people and is currently treating nine recovering addicts.
David Jessi, a former addict who runs the centre, said: "They can stay from one week to one year. We don't use counselling or drugs, it is based on prayer, and hard physical work. We have a success rate of between 80 to 90 per cent. However, with the Irish it is a bit lower, people here have a different mentality."
David knows all to well the world of narcotics and what it does to people. He added: "I was a drug addict and all our houses are run by former drug addicts. We try to become a good person with prayer, friendship and hard work.
"We try to change our lives. People go on drugs because something was wrong, a wound to the heart.
"Addicts are good psychologists. We have lots of good tricks and tell lies. They are used to it, it is part of the mentality.
"When someone comes in first I can see when he is true or not because I was one [an addict] three years ago."
The Cenacolo Community's secret is in providing recovering addicts with an opportunity to listen to their conscience.
And, in cold turkey, all the issues can be seen and the mask of the hardened street-wise head fades because most addicts, the Cenacolo project believes, are essentially frightened individuals.
According to David, after two to three months, addicts are drug-free. Incredibly, no fees are charged.
However, it is a challenging regime - cigarettes, music or television are not permitted. But, occasionally, they can see a football game on TV or film.
The idea behind such a frugal lifestyle is simple. David explained: "We need to be focused and to avoid the temptations of the outside world."
Those currently on the books of the organisation are totally self-contained. They grow all their own food from lettuce to tomatoes, have milk from the cows and make their own cheese.
They also cut turf from the nearby bog for the fire. Typically, a day's work would involve horticulture, helping to build the new chapel or renovating the guest house.
There is also a workshop where those kicking the drug habit can make Rosary beads and ecclesiastical items.
Visitors are not allowed for the recovery period, except for a family day.
Acknowledging that the process may not be for everybody, the centre vets people to make sure they are suitable.
David said: "It is not easy, with so little contact with family we would want people to attend maybe three or four meetings before we see them."
The group holds informal meetings twice a month in Dublin city centre in a bid to make itself available to addicts wishing to beat drugs.
Many former addicts who attended the centre have become so reinvigorated both psychologically and spiritually that they have gone on to lead new lives in religious orders.
In a sense, they have graduated from a life of sin to that of a latter day saint.
David added: "We have three priests from the community: a former weapons dealer, drug addict and drug dealer.
"We also have 25 nuns and six consecrated brothers."
SEE THE LIGHT: Prayer helps people to beat drugs; SAVING GRACE: Cenacolo centre in Co Mayo; CALLING: Sister Elvira Petrozzi