When Father Gabriel Meija, a catholic priest residing in Columbia, first learned transcendental meditation, he was impressed with what it did for him. So, he applied what he learned to eventually open 40 rehabilitation centers throughout his country in order to give sanctuary to displaced children living on the streets, exposed to crime, drugs, and wretched levels of poverty.
Meija says that meditation can be described in one word: happiness. He wanted to give the same happiness and bliss he experienced through the practice of meditation to children he saw living in dire conditions in the streets, called, ‘gamines’ or ‘throw away children’ in his native country.
In cities like Bogota, street children are marginalized and abandoned due to poverty, drug addiction, and other social and political factors. The problem became so severe that death squads were hired in the 1990s by merchants who saw the ‘gamines’ as a hindrance to good business, in order to cleanse the area of the ‘disposables,’ as they were called.
A lucrative drug trade provides huge profits for paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and a small slice of the population lucky enough to live in upper echelons, but many Columbians live in abject poverty, contributing to the challenge of street children.
Cities throughout Columbia, markedly so in Bogota, display a polarization of wealth, with slick shopping centers on the one hand, and streets filled with trash and homeless children, just a few blocks away.
Instead of shooing away the hungry children, as many local business owners would do, or even hiring mercenaries to dispose of them, Meija decided to offer them a slightly unconventional solution. The ‘traditional’ methods he saw being used around the world to help children like those in his country, he observed, were failing. His solution? Introduce yoga and meditation.
Father Gabriel, as he is called, believes that building trust and rehabilitating the spirit of these children is the foundation for changing their lives long term. The mission of Fundacion Hogares Claret, one of his rehabilitation centers is stated clearly: to go hand in hand with people affected by marginality, addiction, violence or with behavior problems, in order to help them to find a sense of their lives with the intention of re-establishing their rights and including them in different areas of society.
Father Gabriel believes that re-establishing these youngsters in ‘the flow of life’ and ‘infinite bliss’ offered by a meditation practice helps to restore what the streets and poverty have taken from them.
The basic therapy that is applied at Meija’s centers is love, as he describes it, but each child is expected to take responsibility for his own rehabilitation. He explains:
“When a child starts to practice yoga every day, morning and afternoon. When a child closes the eyes and begins to meditate . . . they open themselves up to a field of infinite possibilities as Maharishi says. The world opens up for the child, and then the child discovers their essential nature, which is love . . . we must globalize love.’
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the founder of TM, otherwise known as the transcendental meditation program.
Father Gabriel is being called the ‘Saint of Columbia’ for his efforts to introduce yoga and meditation to marginalized children, but really, it is something we should all be practicing every day – to bring more love into our own lives.
For more inspiration from the ‘Saint of Columbia’ you can watch the following:
Listen to Father Gabriel in ‘Love and Transcendence: The Secrets of Lasting Rehabilitation
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