The Catholic Rehabilitation Center of Huong Thien was founded by Father Francis Xavier Tran An, Benedictine, in 2012. In seven years, the center, located near the Marian Marian Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang (near Hue in central Vietnam), accompanied nearly four hundred former drug addicts. Today, 44 residents live there in community, hoping to find a stable job when they leave. The center offers former addicts accommodation, vocational training, care as well as spiritual and psychological support. Residents testify to the radically different fate reserved for residents of the official centers of the state, and emphasize their gratitude to Father An.

Joseph Le Dinh Luu, whose left arm is covered with tattoos, prepares rice, fish, soup and vegetables for drug addicts at a church-run rehabilitation center. "Today is my turn to cook, I try to prepare something good for the residents; I love them as my own family, " says Joseph Luu, himself a former drug addict, while wiping the sweat from his face as he hastened to finish the preparations before joining the chapel in the center for the service before the meal. "Here I learn to cook and I garden from time to time. I also participate in the breeding of poultry and fish farming, "he adds."I am also very interested in organizing activities, and I spend a lot of time praying to God and the Virgin Mary. "Originally from Nghe An province in northern Vietnam, he claims he has become a new man since he was released from drug addiction, by joining the Huong Thien Rehabilitation Center (Towards Well) last December, in the province of Quang Tri. In his forties, he started using methamphetamine in 2005, which friends had given him to treat his flu. He became dependent and eventually sold his family's property to buy illegal drugs. His family sent him to public rehabilitation centers five times, but he escaped each time before falling back into drugs. He explains that in state-owned official rehabilitation centers, drug addicts are treated as prisoners;

In August 2018, the national daily VnExpress reported that residents of one of these centers, in Tien Giang province in southern Vietnam, violently attacked staff members and fled. According to a former drug addict who went through these centers, detainees can be severely punished at the slightest distance, including beaten, forced to remain on their knees for hours or forced labor. According to official statistics, Vietnam has more than 220,000 drug addicts, nearly a third of whom are detained in rehabilitation camps or in prison. Between January and May 2019, the police encountered 10,000 drug cases, seized 301 kilograms of heroin, 440,000 synthetic drug pills and 260 kilograms of marijuana. Almost 12,000 people were arrested during this period. Today, Joseph Luu, who looks older than he is, feels at peace and security at the Catholic center. He goes to Mass every day, plays sports, cooks, manufactures rosaries and furniture, and participates in the maintenance of the center."We take care of each other like brothers, and there are no drugs here," he says. He adds that the center is very different from the official rehabilitation centers, because here there are no guards, and the doors are generally open. "We are trusted, we are loved and respected, and we are responsible for our daily work," he says, emphasizing the contrast with the harsh conditions of government institutions. Benedictine father Francis Xavier Tran An, 47, founded the center in 2012, next to the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. The center offers physical and psychological care, as well as housing and vocational training, to 44 former drug addicts in the center, including Joseph Luu.

4,000 drug users welcomed in seven years

Father An, himself a former drug addict before joining the Benedictine order, confesses that life at the Catholic center is similar to what one can experience during long retreats, allowing residents to get closer to God who heals them. The priest, who lives in the center 24 hours a day, explains that addicts need to break out of isolation and find a healthy environment where they can find love and respect. This involves thinking about their own history, seeking divine mercy and reintegrating their communities. "Former drug addicts must be ready to live a community life, to respect our rules and to accept to have neither pocket money nor mobile phones",explains the Benedictine monk, who adds that they are asked not to leave the center without his permission, to swear, to drink alcohol, to steal or to create tension in the center. The priest, who offers them a spiritual accompaniment, specifies that they are offered to participate in visits to religious sites and tourist circuits, in order to give them the opportunity to mingle with the life of society.

In the past seven years, the center has treated nearly 400 drug users for periods of four to eight months. Many got out, got married and got stable jobs. Ten of them even joined a Benedictine monastery located in the city of Hue, in the center of the country. Father An confides that the center is sponsored by benefactors such as businessmen, pilgrims and families of former drug addicts. Truong Dinh Be, 26, was released from drugs in 2017 after spending five months in the center; he ensures that all residents live in peace, like brothers. "I am deeply grateful to Father An, who taught me to behave with dignity and avoid harm,"testifies Truong Dinh Be, who works in a parking lot for two wheels of Hue. Truong Be spent several years in jail and in state rehabilitation centers, where he explains that residents were beaten, insulted and treated as prisoners. For his part, Luu looks to a better future. "I will go back to my family in August," he says with a smile, while washing vegetables at the center. "I plan to raise chickens and plant fruit trees on a 5000 square meter land," he adds.

(Source: Églises d'Asie - le 12/07/2019, With Ucanews, La Vang)