03/17/2009, 00.00
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Catholic priest offering three-day anti-alcohol, anti-smoking therapy

by Melani Manel Perera
Fr Alexis Benedict travels around southern Sri Lanka to help men of any age and creed kick their bad habits. His three-day treatment combines community therapy and yoga mediation and is free. All he demands from his patients are determination to get rid of their dependency.
Ragama (AsiaNews) – Fr Alexis Benedict heads the Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, travelling throughout southern Sri Lanka to promote his three-day treatment to break alcohol and tobacco dependency. He spoke to AsiaNews after a session held in Ragama.

“Ten men who had been drinking and smoking for a long time recently took our programme and eventually kicked the habit. I can now assure you that they are clean,” he said.

But what he wants to do is much more. “I want to dry the tears in the eyes of the loving mothers and wives in our society. I want to help those who are slaves to alcohol taste life again. Thanks to my programme I can treat a drunkard and a smoker in three days,” he explained.

Smoking and drinking are widespread in Sri Lana, especially among men, with devastating effects on the health of individuals and on the life and finances of their families. For instance, Father Alexis lamented that the ten who received his treatment had “spent some 48,000,000 rupees (US$ 400,000) on alcohol.”

The patient is physically and mentally involved at every stage in the rehabilitation programme. Family members also take part to “provide psychological support to the victims” of alcohol and tobacco abuse.

The treatment combines the ‘therapeutic community’ approach currently in use in the United States with a yoga programme called ‘Art of Living’ by Sri Ravishankar practiced in India (pictured, Father Alexis during a therapy session)

The three days include meditation sessions interspersed with physical activities following a fixed timetable, with a one-hour bathing session every day. Patients are also required to drink an anti-tetanus drink.

“This way I can offer a treatment for the whole body, both mind and stomach,” said Father Alexis. “With my method we slay the demons hiding in the mind and in the stomach.”

The treatment is free. Patients are required only good will to fight their dependency. Once the three-day session is over they are given a ten-point list of dos and don’ts to follow if they want to avoid falling back into it.

Vincent Fernando, 59, comes from Marawila parish, far from Ragama. He too is an alcoholic. In talking about his three days with Father Alexis he said that he did not know what to expect when he arrived.

“I brought my wife and son, telling myself that we were going to take a vow at the shrine in Tewatta. My wife then stayed with me but my son went home so I could not get out of this and had to follow the programme.”

R. Selvarani, a 38-year-old Tamil woman, explained the impact of her husband’s alcoholism. “We had no money, no food. What we made went to buy alcoholic beverages. But after this three-day programme he changed and began to look at us as a responsible husband and father should. Now he does not smoke or drink any more.”

R. Victor Jayatisse, a 45-year-old Buddhist, also took Father Alexis’ three-day treatment.

“At the end of the programme I felt I was a man who had his whole dignity back,” he said. “Before I was living like an animal,” he said, tearful. “My child would not stay with me because of the state in which I was when I drank. At work and at home I was treated like a boozer. I did not like myself and was sad for the pain I caused my family and the lack of respect they had to endure as a result of my alcohol dependency.”

At the end of the month, his whole salary used to go to buy alcoholic beverages, 32,000 rupees (about US$ 260). He had even started selling his things to get money, Jayatisse said. “I honestly bow to father Alexis for saving us; I feel I have my life back,” he added.

After Ragama Father Alexis’ team plans to be to Tewatta on 21-24 April, near Jubilee Hall at Our Lady of Lanka shrine, a national basilica devoted to Our Lady.

“Everyone is invited and can get in touch with us,” said the clergyman.

Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation Program:

Father Alexis: tel. +94 776552 545;

Nixon: tel. +94 72 3768260; e-mail nraigambandarage@yahoo.com;

Richard: tel. +94 777 572686; e-mail richardwije@gmail.com.

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