Malcolm Gray on the Association’s support for a drug rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Fátima

Part of the Message of Fátima is the request from Our Lady for people to make sacrifices for the sake of others. When in 2001 the Ecumenical Friends of Fátima Association (EFFA) was inaugurated in the presence of the then Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, Bishop Seraphim Silva, it was agreed that the Association would not just be another spiritual Association but it should be an Association that took seriously the call of Our Lady to make sacrifices for the well-being of others.

Practical expression

In 2002 discussions were held with Bishop Seraphim and after a visit to the Vida e Paz Community – the Community of Life and Peace – a centre on the outskirts of Fátima where people caught up in drug abuse could be rehabilitated, we agreed to seek to give the Community financial support each year, making the Vida e Paz a practical expression of EFFA’s Apostolate. Members of EFFA also remember the work of the Community regularly in their prayers.

The Vida e Paz Community exists to welcome and meet the needs of people who have become addicted to drugs, helping them to regain their dignity and to (re)build their lives through an integrated action of prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration. The Vida e Paz Community is concerned with the body, soul and spirit of its ‘residents’ and can house up to 70 residents at any one time. Vida e Paz aims to promote self-determination and liberation to its ‘residents’ so they can be freed of their dependency on drugs and return to a full life in the local community.

Support and training

Throughout the process of rehabilitation there is a whole spectrum of social, juridical and counselling support and whenever necessary, psychologists, psychiatrists and general practitioners are also freely available for consultation. The rehabilitation programme covers a period of 12 months, followed by a further programme, where the ‘residents’ learn new skills such as woodwork, pottery, IT and electronics. Support is also given with regards to looking for new accommodation, and a job when they are ready to leave.

During the period of rehabilitation both in the Vida e Paz Community in Fátima and in the ‘half-way house’ in Leiria, the ‘residents’ are bound by house rules especially as to when they can leave the premises. All ‘residents’ are subjected to drug detection and alcohol dependency tests, whenever it is thought to be necessary. No physical or verbal aggression or any kind of violence is permitted and all ‘residents’ are required to keep their rooms clean and tidy and respect each other’s privacy.

Catholic spirituality

The Community Chapel sits at the centre and heart of the Community. It is situated in the residential part of the ‘residents’ accommodation and is open for use at all times. The spirit of the community is founded on Compassion, Adoration and Evangelization, and so has its basis in Catholic spirituality.

At the entrance to the Chapel there is large ceramic roundel which highlights these three aspects of the community’s life. Firstly, compassion is demonstrated within the community as people are weaned off drug dependency. Secondly, adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is becoming a real part of day-to-day life in the community chapel. Thirdly, evangelism takes the form of teaching the faith because that is an essential part of that wholeness of life meant for everyone.

In the background behind the workings of Vida e Paz are people who, in ‘building community’, believe that it is possible to create conditions of life and peace for the homeless or the social vulnerable. With sacrificial ‘financial’ contributions it is believed possible to build and extend this great cause and so give real hope for the homeless and vulnerable.

Spirit of prayer

In such a spirit of prayer with and for each other lies our strength and the depth of our commitment to the call of Our Lady to make sacrifices for the sake of others. Over the past 11 years EFFA has raised just over £20,000 which has been used for general running costs, some furnishing of the house in Leiria, updating the ‘residents’ computer system and TV, a pathway in the entrance garden and a stone statue of Our Lady which sits above the entrance to the chapel. It is in this spirit that EFFA is both honoured and humbled to be able to support the work of the Comunidade Vida e Paz at Fátima.

As the Lord said: ‘As you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me’.

EFFA pilgrimage

The next pilgrimage of EFFA will be from Thursday 8–Thursday 15 May 2014 visiting the Vida e Paz Community on Wednesday 14 May. Anyone interested in joining this pilgrimage, led by the Bishop of Fulham, Bishop Jonathan Baker, should contact:

Fr C. Malcolm Gray,