While in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis visited the Hospital of St. Francis of Assisi where drug addicts are treated and where he offered these addicts a very human embrace and a message of hope.   Pope Francis called this hospital a “shrine of human suffering.”

For those of us in recovery from alcoholism, Pope Francis’ message has an exact parallel with our own disease.  We realize that alcohol is as much a drug as crack cocaine.  The road to recovery is the same whatever the drug addiction we have.  And how do we “get on the journey” to recovery?

Pope Francis said to these addicts in Rio “dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey, you have to want to stand up; this is the indispensable condition.”

What Francis offered these addicts is directly from St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  Ignatius directs a person in prayer to have a “desire for union with God” in whatever condition of need a person finds himself/herself.  Ignatius places great emphasis on “desire”.  He even says that if you cannot desire a particular grace, pray to God to at least sincerely “desire the desire”.

With any addiction, the starting point is precisely this:  To fully and wholeheartedly desire recovery.  Without this, recovery is impossible.

The Pope’s embrace of these addicts was a call to all of us, those dealing with active addictions and those who live and care for them.  “To embrace someone is not enough,” Pope Francis said.  “We must hold the hand of the one in need, of the one who has fallen into the darkness of dependency perhaps without even knowing how, and we must say to him or her, you can get up, you can stand up.  It is difficult, but it is possible if you want to.”   Again, the emphasis on “desire”.

It is abundantly evident that Pope Francis lives the principles of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.  Indeed he embodies the very words of the prayer used by Ignatius:  “Lord, grant me only Your love and Your grace.  With these I am rich enough, beyond all earthly riches, and I desire nothing more.  Your love and Your grace are enough for me.”

Br. Richard Hittle, S.J.