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“Man is not his mistakes”, Don Oreste Benzi said, but very often, it is exactly a mistake, a dependency to classify a person in the eyes of the rest of the world. Sometimes forever. A drug addict, a doped: those are “labels” that remain glued to a man and it is difficult get rid of them, but it is even more difficult to make other people acknowledge that one can take the reins of his own life in his hands again, that it is possible to change.

This year the Pope John XXIII Communities gathered in the church of  Resurrection in Rimini again, for the Feast of Recognition, with a special liturgy to celebrate St Stephen’s day,  the rebirth of the young people who have concluded their therapeutic program and have defeated drugs.  

This tradition celebrates this year its 20th anniversary; the first mass of Recognition was officiated by Don Oreste in 1995. In ’95 they received “Recognition”: 65 Italians, who come mostly from the Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Veneto and Abruzzo regions, and 30 from foreign recovery structures, such as Croatia, Albania, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. 85% of them are male, over 30, and have a long history of addiction and tragic lives. Most of them entered the community first of all due to heroin and cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse and gambling addiction.

It is exactly because of drugs that Francis came in touch with the association founded by Don Benzi. He had begun to smoke marijuana at the age of 14, perhaps at the beginning it was a game in which he imitated his bigger brother, but then he fell into the trap of dependency and at the age of 16 he began to use heroin. Francis told In Terris he came from a humble family, where, nonetheless, he never lacked anything also thanks to his dad who worked a lot (and who was often away from home for this reason). Only many years later and thanks to a very hard interior work, he managed to understand that what had pushed him towards the world of drugs was precisely the lack of a daily relationship with his father.

“The life of a doped is very hard. Withdrawal symptoms wake you up very early and your first thoughts are always about the beast”. To get a dose, Francis stole, even in his own house, betrayed the trust of his family and friends. “I slept in the car, at the railway station, in super economic pensions only when I had a few euros in my pocket; and to eat, at times, I had to go to some social canteens”.

Then he realized he touched rock-bottom and could not take it anymore… Also going to Sert to take methadone had become unbearable.  And thanks to the healthcare workers from the Service for drug addiction, he chose and agreed to enter the recovery program at the Pope John Community.

A long and tiring journey, with boulders that hinder your path, days when it was difficult to accept and leave the past behind. But thanks to the workers of the Pope John XXIII Community, Francis has made it. He concluded his recovery program. Then he decided to change his life even more, putting it at the service of the poor, of the last ones. After Francis had accepted Don Oreste’s proposal, he went to Brazil where he met his wife. He has not simply managed to take his life in his own hands, but also to resume his relationship with his father and with the rest of the family.

“I cannot forget the past, it is part of me – Francis has concluded -, all my mistakes and my falls, as painful as they can be, have helped me to become the man I am.  I found my mercy in drug addiction”. A slap in the face of all those people who think that the past needs to be cancelled.

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