The scourge of drug abuse continues to worsen around Australia. Studies carried out by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare in 2002 indicated that in 2001 around 31 per cent of males aged 14- 29 had used cannabis in the previous 12 months. The study also showed that of people aged 14-29, 2.4 million had used cannabis at some point in their lives.
Statistics based on other illicit drugs also show a worrying trend with increasingly high percentages of drug use among Australia's youth. This is despite various governmental harm minimisation policies.
Brother Creos was a heavy drug user for 20 years. Addicted to heroin, LSD, amphetamines and benzodiazepines, he was unable to escape from his pattern of self-destruction despite participating in a number of detoxification and rehabilitation programs. It was only through the prayers and care of the Missionaries of Charity that Creos was able to give up the life of drugs and be eventually baptised in May 1998.
Abstinence and prayer
Now a reformed drug addict, Brother Creos is determined to help others afflicted with drug addiction. Knowing through personal experience that harm minimisation policies are ineffective, he is convinced - once again through personal experience - that the best way to freedom from addiction is through abstinence and prayer.
Following World Youth Day in 2000 Creos stayed at the Communita Cenacolo in Croatia. The Communita Cenacolo is a worldwide community that help addicts rehabilitate through a program of prayer and work. They believe that it is Christ who will most profoundly bring the light of an authentic life to those who have been lost through addiction.
Staying with the community helped Creos see that not only was rehabilitation through faith and prayer possible but also most effective. With the encouragement and help in Melbourne of Fr Anthony Fisher OP and Archbishop George Pell, Creos started work on the Immaculate Heart Community.
This community is currently situated at Magdalene House in Maidstone, a western suburb. The community accepts men who have gone through detoxification programs and helps them deal with the mental and spiritual difficulties of substance dependence. The community believes that dealing with drug addiction involves not only mental and physical, but also moral and spiritual dimensions.
The community, which observes faithfully the teachings of the Catholic Church, does not seek funding from the government lest this compromise its work. Instead, it is entirely funded by Creos, community members and donations.
Rebuilding the dignity and self respect of community members is seen as one of the major goals, with discipline and sacrifice essential in helping fortify the mind against drug dependence. Those living in the community are also encouraged to find work and undergo some form of education through TAFE, university or distance learning.
Developing a solid spiritual life is also essential to the well-being of those in the community. Not only is daily prayer essential but immoral distractions are forbidden.
All new members must declare any monies, prescribed drugs or medication they possess. During the first month, Brother Creos also oversees the monies of members to help them deal with any temptations they may encounter. All are expected to help with the financial and general upkeep of the house.
All residents of the house have to be home by 6:30pm in time for Vespers, unless otherwise arranged and there is a curfew of 10pm, with lights out by 11pm. All must shower and shave daily and dress cleanly and modestly. Those on drugs prescribed to deal with addiction (such as methadone) are encouraged to reduce dosages.
Swearing and blasphemy are forbidden in the house, TV is not allowed during prayer times and any programs of a violent or sexual nature are banned. Reading and communal activities are encouraged.
All in the house are required to attend Lauds (morning prayer) at 7am and Vespers (evening prayer) at 6:30pm each day, and encouraged to attend daily Mass. All must attend Sunday Mass and Mass on any days of obligation. Fortnightly confessions are necessary unless a person is not Catholic.
Residents are not allowed to use any illicit drugs while living there, with such drug usage resulting in immediate eviction and police notification. Alcohol and tobacco are permitted, though regular abuse of these substances is not tolerated.
Expansion of work
Magdalene House is only the first stage of intended development for the community. Brother Creos hopes that the community may eventually be able to find land somewhere in the country to establish a farm with accommodation for around 60 members at any one time rather than the current figure of around eight at Magdalene House.
The community also hopes that with the guidance of their chaplain, Fr Christopher Dowd OP, they may in future be recognised as a formal institution for drug rehabilitation.
It is often overlooked that substance dependence has moral and spiritual dimensions. When these are addressed, along with the physical and mental aspects, the Immaculate Heart Community and the Communita Cenacolo have been able to achieve success rates of over 90 per cent.
Anh Nguyen is an organiser with the Thomas More Centre. Magdalene House welcomes visitors and can be contacted on +61 3 9317 7205. Further information, including how to donate to the Immaculate Heart Community, can be found at www.immaculateheartcommunity.net.