Pastoral Letter on Drug Abuse in New Mexico

From Despair to Hope

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On the Feast of All Saints, we listened to the scriptures reminding us “that we are children of God” (1 John 3:1). We are all precious in the eyes of God and are called, as best we can, to live lives close to Jesus Christ and his Church. Each one of us has the dignity of Baptism and the Sacraments of our Church and we are called to be saints.

There is no way in which that dignity is harmed more than through addiction to illicit drugs and alcohol abuse. Drug abuse has become a terrible curse affecting many families in our state, creating a climate of despair. As Archbishop, I want the Church to offer her resources to deal with this problem and help people move from despair to hope. I have written this pastoral letter for Catholics and all people of good will that seek to confront drug abuse which has been called the number one health problem in New Mexico.

Many families affected by drugs are embarrassed to talk about the problem of drug abuse which makes it more difficult to treat. In order to stimulate discussion and encourage a response to this terrible problem, earlier this year, the Archbishop’s Forum on Drug Abuse carried out four public hearings in Espanola, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. Many people gave personal testimonies about drug addiction and recovery and offered solutions to this serious problem. Approximately 1,300 people attended the hearings. Their insightful, heart wrenching testimonies are the soul of this pastoral letter. I invite you to listen with your hearts to some of the things they said. (The names of the persons have been changed to respect their privacy.)

Frances, a mother and victim of drugs shares her pain.

My son was a good boy…he became addicted to drugs…he was high on drugs when he did a terrible act.. he killed two people and will be in prison the rest of his life. I became a victim, too… our entire family is serving time with him. He is still my son and I love him.

Robert, a middle-aged man, shares his struggle with drugs.

I used drugs for 18 years. I lost everything, my job, my family, my friends. My only daughter wouldn’t speak to me. My road to recovery began when I asked a priest to pray for me after sharing my problem with him. I got treatment. I came back to the Catholic Church. I have a great relationship with my daughter and relatives.

Maria, a mother who grieves over a daughter killed by a drug-crazed burglar stated,

I picked up my 9 year old daughter from school.. we drove home and she was praying the rosary. I entered my house… and thought I had been electrocuted. I had been shot... I saw the man shoot my daughter…she died in my arms.

These testimonies and many others that I heard confirm studies indicating that New Mexicans are using illicit drugs at an alarming rate and this is causing terrible harm to physical and mental health. Many are dying of drug overdoses. Our priests and deacons have buried too many young people who are victims of this terrible scourge. So many of our families mourn as innocent people are killed or harmed by drug abuse and by the violence surrounding it. Too many neighborhoods are blighted by the presence of drug deals. Drug abuse is the doorway to domestic violence, broken families, poverty and prison. Tragically in some communities drug abuse spans generations of families and is considered normal behavior. For some it has become an economic mainstay and an accepted way of life.

The abuse of drugs is seriously sinful because they cause grave damage to human health and life (Catholic Catechism, Paragraph 2291). Likewise, selling illegal drugs is an evil that deeply harms the entire community and is sinful.

In many ways the psychological aspects of drug abuse, as well as the physical aspects, reveal clearly the human devastation from drug dependency. Rather than finding the happiness they seek, drug dependent persons enter a world of lonely isolation, seeing their surroundings as increasingly hostile. Their reality feels devoid of a loving God. The drug abuser’s self worth is often reduced to nothing and even the possibility of change, treatment and rehabilitation is overwhelmed by hopelessness, alienation, and spiritual starvation.

The good news is that people who are enslaved and blinded by drugs can be freed through the amazing saving grace of Jesus Christ. With God’s strength, effective treatment and the help of loved ones, people can be freed from addictions.

Recognizing the severity of the drug abuse problem, I have drawn up a plan of action based on the results of the hearings and ideas given by many people. First of all, the Archdiocese is committing financial resources through the use of archdiocesan funds and a special collection in all the parishes to help in the implementation of the plan.


What is our action plan?

What can you do as an individual?

(1) Seek ways of staying close to Jesus Christ, Our Savior, by frequenting the Sacraments and leading a life of prayer and goodness. (2) Be compassionate and reach out to those who are addicted, encouraging them to lead a drug-free life. (3) Decide, with God’s help, to avoid serious sin. Stop using drugs or abusing alcohol, and seek help. (4) Develop your personal “anti-drug” (for example, volunteer, get involved in sports, hobbies, church, civic activities, join a support group, bible reading, caring for others, etc.)

What can you do as a young person?

(1) Educate yourself on the physical and emotional harm that illegal drugs and alcohol abuse can do to you. (2) Choose your friends wisely and avoid those persons who abuse illegal drugs and alcohol. (3) Be involved in youth activities in your parish and stay close to the Lord through Sunday Mass, the Sacraments and prayer.

What can you do as a family?

(1) Stay involved in your children’s lives; eat together, do things together and when children go out from home, ask the questions: Who? What? When? Where? and Why?. (2) Model good behavior and how to have fun without alcohol and drugs. Forbid illegal drugs in the home or at any family celebration. Use alcohol moderately or not at all. (3) Live your faith in Jesus Christ as a family; develop a family spirituality through prayer, Sunday Mass, the Sacraments, and parish activities.

What can you do as a parish?

(1) Parish Council members and parish leaders must study and implement this pastoral letter. (2) Offer spiritual support and speak about the drug abuse issue in homilies and in sacramental preparation. (3) Provide professional counseling at the parish level, when possible. Initiate a support group in the parish to help those addicted to develop a deep prayer life and relationship with Jesus and Mary to give them strength to stay clean. (4) Open parish facilities for use by drug counselors and by support groups, such as Alanon, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. (5) Keep a list of treatment centers and their phone numbers handy for referral purposes when the need arises. (6) Make young people and youth activities a priority in the parish by providing a youth minister, opportunities and space for young people to be together in healthy ways.

What can we do as an Archdiocese?

(1) Maintain the Archbishop’s Task Force on Drug Abuse in order to implement this pastoral letter through deanery and parish groups. (2) Make limited funds available to parishes for prevention activities. (3) Provide counseling, education, referrals, and support groups through the services of Catholic Charities. (4) Collaborate with other community groups to advocate in the state for the necessary resources for prevention and treatment of drug abuse through the Archdiocesan Office of Social Justice and the New Mexico Catholic Conference. (5) Encourage parishes to work with neighborhood organizations to promote safe communities and neighborhoods to be free from drug dealers and gangs.

Now is the time to make a commitment. I call on you to be involved in your neighborhoods and to vote. Advocate for improved resources in your communities. Take an active interest in your schools that they will be healthy and drug free. Parents would not tolerate the presence of lice in their schools. Likewise do not tolerate drugs!

I call on government agencies and officials to allocate sufficient resources for prevention, treatment and aftercare and to work together with church and community groups to provide services.

The Church must be a sign of hope: to serve, to reach out, to help rebuild lives, and to support individuals and families in the fight against drug addiction. I urge your prayers and help in sharing this gospel message of hope through your response to my pastoral letter on drug abuse in New Mexico.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,
Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe
Promulgated on November 1, 2001, Feast of All Saints


Addendum - Additional Ideas for Action Planning on Drug Abuse