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Award for movie about Catholic priest using yoga to treat addicts in Mumbai

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Mumbai: A documentary about the transformational power of yoga in fighting drug addiction won the Special Jury Mention Award at the 2018 Jaipur International Film Festival. The film was British filmmaker Philippa Frisby’s documentary on Father Joseph Pereira’s yoga center fighting drug addiction.

The film, The Circle, on Kripa Dharavi Center in Mumbai is a story that has to be told,” said Frisby, who is also a certified Iyengar yoga teacher.

The 65-minute narrates the life of four street children. It features how they fall into addiction and survive by selling refuse, using drugs to block out their inner pain.

The film shows the children going to school, forming friendships with other boys in the Center, and beginning the process of rebuilding their self-esteem and hope for the future.

“I had used up almost all my savings for this film and when we won, I was overwhelmed. But for me, it was more important to share this inspirational story with the world,” Frisby told the Times of India.

Mumbai’s Dharavi neighborhood is the second largest slum in Asia, and home to over 700,000 people. This is where Fr Pereira began the Kripa Center two decades ago to rehabilitate those street children who were addicted to drugs.

The priest said many young students from foreign universities also visit the center and share with the children various useful skills.

Now more people will find out about this in The Circle, and Frisby said it was a unique experience.

“It has been an amazing journey. It has been a life enhancer and life-changer,” the director said.

The Church and Yoga?

Madonna swears by it.So do Geri Halliwell and Sting.That’s just the celeb brigade.Now,it’s the turn of the Catholic church to mix prayers and pranayams. Kripa,a de-addiction centre at Bandra in Mumbai,is proof of yoga’s growing popularity with the clergy. Here, inmates practise their asanas every morning and leading the class is Father Joe Pereira, a Catholic priest and Kripa founder who is a firm believer in yoga’s ability to combat alcohol and drug addiction.

He isn’t the only one who finds this 5,000-year-old system of exercise beneficial.From schools in Agra to institutions in Kerala, yoga is putting many Christians on the mat.In fact,several Catholic seminaries in India have started using yoga in their meditation classes to help candidates prepare for priesthood.

Yoga instructors across the country have always attracted their fair share of Catholics over the years but that’s been purely for fitness reasons. Now, seminaries are showing they’re not averse to its spiritual side.

So why the acceptance? After all,the discomfort with yoga’s associations with Hinduism goes back a long way.Islamic countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have even seen fatwas being issued against yoga.Father Julian Saldhana, who teaches theology at the St Pious College,an institution where Catholic priests are trained,traces the winds of change to the Second Vatican Council held in the mid-1960s.” Local cultures and languages began to be given greater importance. Before Vatican II,there were individual attempts by priests to practise yoga;some also wrote about their experiences but this did not have any major impact,” he says.

Despite the easing up of restrictions, many were still wary.When Father Joe Pereira began teaching yoga at the Fort Convent Hall in Colaba in 1974, there was a section of Catholics who complained to the then Cardinal Valerian Gracias that ” yoga was satanic and against the tenets of Christianity”. But the Cardinal supported him.” They were unaware that yoga could be taught in a manner which could appeal to people of all faiths. I was teaching Iyengar Yoga which was a combination of asanas,pranayama and prayers to the god of your own understanding. There was no prayer to a Hindu God.”

Another reason for yoga being accepted in Catholic seminaries is the fact that some of its practices are similar to some older traditions of Christianity, says Fr Saldhana.” For instance,there has always existed a tradition of using ” Hesychasm,” a breathing technique in which the name of Christ is repeated hundreds of times. This is similar to ” Nam Jap” used in the yogic tradition,” he points out.

According to church circles, strains of the yogic tradition were also contained in the writings of well-known Catholic priest and author, the late Fr Anthony D’Mello, who penned Sadhana, A Way to God in 1984. His concepts, which drew from yoga and zen Buddhism, are widely used by Christians for mediation. Fr DMello died in 1987 but his writings continued to be popular inspite of severe criticism by the Vatican’s faith watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

In Kerala, which has a Christian tradition going back 2,000 years, yoga is very much in demand. Fr Paul Telecatt, editor of a Catholic paper Satyadevam and spokesperson for the Ernakulam diocese,says many priests have mastered the art.

But while some are bending over backwards to embrace yoga, there are voices of dissent.Gee Varghese Dionisious, Syro Maolankara rite bishop of Bathery in Malabar in Kerala, points out that yoga in its entirety isn’t in keeping with the Church’s teaching.” In the final stages of yoga,the yogi becomes one with God and this is where we differ from yoga. Any Christian has to keep this in mind when he does yoga.”

There are different kinds of yoga and these shouldn’t be lumped together,explains Fr Joe Pereira.” The BKS Iyengar school which I teach caters to the mind and the body. As for the spirit,he leaves us free to choose the God we understand. But there are other schools of yoga that restrict the practice within a particular faith bias.” He cites Bhakti yoga which has a lot of singing of hymns to Hindu deities and is difficult for people from other religions to follow.

What’s the interest in yoga?” In the 1950s,I used to use a chain around my thigh for penance.This went out of practice in the Church, but through yoga I can understand self denial, penance and mortification,” says Father Joe who runs over 25 de-addiction centres.

Lets pray for:

  1. Suffering Children and young adults will be aware of this center before it is too late
  2. Pray for the work that Fr. Pereira is doing.

(With significant inputs from the Crux and Times of India.)

 

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