News from Berdine (France)

Berdine was founded in 1973, in the south of France, in a ruined village that has been magnificently rebuilt and extended. It is a place to live where each person has his own level and his own rhythm, has to take charge of himself and later take charge of a newcomer. This is in order to help the residents take responsibility and acquire the independence necessary for re-insertion. Work linked to abstinence is an essential element of a cure.
The objective of this project is to enable people who are addicted to various substances to regain their physical health and psychological equilibrium through total abstinence from all forms of addictive substances (such as alcohol, hard and soft drugs, anti-depressants and prescribed drug substitutes). This enables them to make a successful re-insertion. Berdine takes in an average of 150 to 200 people a year.
Jean Michel at the door of his appartmentJean Michel at the door of his appartmentJune 7th marked the fifth anniversary of my entry into the Berdine Bergerie ('bergerie' means, literally, 'sheepfold') as a volunteer community member. Here the life takes a rhythm from the presence of the chapel (used for prayer in the morning, and for the meeting in the evening) as well as by meals eaten all together at a fixed time. And having been a 'guest' in a Muslim country for a long time, (NB: Jean Michel spent many years living in the south of Algeria, a Moslem area) where religion dictates the conduct of all life in society, it was a big change to find myself once more in my native country with people for whom religion was often the least of their concerns.
Berdine is an association based on Christian obedience (as interpreted by the Catholic Church), but viewpoints of other creeds, or none, have their place. The Berdine Bergerie is open to people with severe societal difficulties, mainly drug addicts and alcoholics.Jean-Michel and FrancoisJean-Michel and Francois Many of them are homeless when they first arrive in Berdine. Some of them are the subjects of ongoing criminal proceedings. Some courts, with the agreement of the Berdine community, have allowed house arrest, community service, bail or supervision orders on the basis of evidence supplied by the Berdine community. There are also a small number of people who are illegal immigrants or whose applications for immigrant status have yet to be approved. The vast majority of the people here lack some necessary form of documentation (e.g. identity card, visa, social security card, invalidity or unemployment benefit entitlement etc.). In 2006, 7% of the people taken in were women.
The aims of Berdine are to live in accordance with the Gospel, to live a truly humble prayer life, to live in accordance with nature and to live while working for the community. Our lifestyle is simple, as are our rules: no alcohol, no drugs, no psychotropic medicines, no food substitutes, no violence, no personal money. We undertake all the work needed to keep the community functioning ourselves. Community life depends on good will on the part of all, and of everyone’s acceptance of the idea that their own work is essential to the good of all.
Those who agree to take on a role of responsibility within the community form a central core in which important decisions are taken communally. A meeting is held every Wednesday to discuss all matters relating to community life. Another meeting to organise the week's work, during which the various task groups are set up, takes place on Sunday evening. To live a truly simple life means not to want more than what we need, which God gives us each day. Above all, it means being careful not to waste anything. Through this simple life in Berdine we can hope to restore to those who come to us a feeling that life has meaning, hurt and despairing as they may often be. Berdine is a place to seek out calm, silence and peace.
Although our house rules include some restrictions (prohibitions, requirements, etc), these have not been imposed on us by an outside organisation, as in a help centre or hostel; on the contrary, they have been drawn up over the years by the people who come here, who have seen them as a necessary tool in helping them to move from the status of a person in need of help to that of a genuinely active and responsible person, both within the community and also once reintegrated into society at large. For that reason, the feeling in Berdine is that everyone should come to feel that they need not rely on the help of a “specialist” (psychologist, social worker etc), but that they should have the will to take themselves in hand, together with the other residents. The life of the community has been organised to this end at every level, enabling it to be established as a living organism which constantly develops and renews itself. We talk about 'accompanying' rather than an institutional framework. I myself help out generally and listen to the residents. Finally, a number of volunteers regularly help out with different matters, such as accounting, agriculture, sewing, computing, carpentry instruction etc.

A little girl born in the community was baptised at Easter. Our guests are all struck by the enthusiasm with which the residents speak of their work, be they the gardener, the baker, the carpenter, the decorator, the potter, the shepherds, the beekeeper, the wood sellers and cutters or something else. Berdine is their home and, in some cases, their family.
Jean-Michel at Berdine with some visiting brothersJean-Michel at Berdine with some visiting brothers
I really do thank Our Lord for having led me to this place, and I thank the Fraternity for helping me to set down roots here, which in all my poverty I see as the heart of the vocation of a Little Brother.