Sister Elvira Petrozzi, the Italian foundress of the worldwide Cenacolo Community, visited the UK last weekend, to celebrate the first anniversary of Our Lady Queen Of Martyrs House in Dodding Green, Kendal.
Community Cenacolo is a Christian association, founded by the Italian nun, Sister Elvira Petrozzi in 1983 to welcome in desperate young people, who are suffering from the strains of life, and may have turned to drug addiction, alcohol or substance abuse. In community they are able to rebuild their lives for a new life in society.
The success rate claimed by the organisation is high, with many of those who enter community houses that Sister Elvira has set up around the world, never taking drugs again. Many have even taking up vocations within the church; up to five new priests have been ordained following community.
There are over 50 communities worldwide including Italy, France (Lourdes) , Ireland (Knock), Austria, Croatia, Brazil Mexico, Bosnia Herzegovina (Medjugorje), Poland, Dominican Republic and the USA.
There are currently 1200 persons in community and there are separate houses for men and women with some family houses for those addicts who wish to have their children with them.
After several years of meetings, prayer and many setbacks the first Cenacolo Community in England was finally opened in Dodding Green on 19 March 2005, by the 'Friends For a UK Cenacolo Community' - a registered charity that provides for community and receives no support from the state.
As with all communities, the one at Dodding Green, relies purely on God's providence, prayer and the generosity of its supporters for their everyday needs. Unlike a conventional rehabilitation unit, there are no doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, or medication.
Life in the community is simple and centred on work, prayer and spiritual healing. Each house is self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables and depending on the location, they may keep animals: cows, pigs, chickens and goats. Every community is run by recovered addicts for addicts under the overall direction of Sister Elvira, who has a great love for young people struggling with addiction.
Now, a year on, in the presence of the Bishop Of Lancaster, the Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, Father Stefan from Italy, Cenacolo's first ordained priest, and Father Michael McCormick, Parish Priest of The Holy Trinity and St George Parish Kendal, over 500 people from all over Europe gathered at Dodding Green, Kendal to celebrate Mass and give thanks to Sister Elvira for her courage and inspiration.
The Anniversary Mass was held in a giant marquee, specially built for the event, on the holy grounds, by the ten men currently in residence in the community house. With a hearty voice and vibrant Italian accent Sister Elvira instantly enthused the crowds at Dodding Green, with her profound testimony, translated by Cenacolo Ambassador Nicola Hughes, a former heroin addict from Liverpool, who for the past five years has been running the Saluzzo Community and house in Italy.
Both Sister Elvira and Nicola Hughes are living witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit and God's mercy in transforming the lives of young people marked by a harrowing drug addiction and scarred by despair. Sister Elvira's message is revolutionary and simple. To the young who have desperate and shattered lives caused by addiction, who are unsatisfied and slaves to uncontrollable impulses and destructive habits, who live in fear, darkness, isolation and anger, Sister Elvira and her community joyfully echo the Gospel and announce the resurrection, the triumph of life over death.
Sister Elvira teaches that drugs: "can be a cross that kills, or a cross that saves." Pointing to faith, friendship and work as the means to reform and regenerate, Sister Elvira spoke of the strong call within her heart to minister to the most alone and excluded youth trapped in today's narcissistic culture, caught in a world filled with material illusions, searching for a meaningless escape, which only leads to a painful hopelessness, and a constant belief of being misunderstood or ignored: "Today I have a message that is filled with trust, hope and joy, but above all faith.
The Bishop Of Lancaster has made a great big act of faith in God, by believing in us and even before he got to know us, he trusted the work of the Holy Spirit and supported the aims of Cenacolo. It is always a beautiful surprise for us when people embrace our mission and today we have been welcomed into your open arms with love and faith. I care about you all here and today the Community Cenacolo proposes to young people in England, a life of freedom and being truthful, but first you must be brave and find courage. "In Italy, I ask the parents to lose face and take their masks off, to be brave enough to say "my child takes drugs".
"We ask the families and the addicts to live a life of truth and eliminate the stigma and shame that drugs bring to a family. You don't have to feel scandalised because it is LIFE! Life is a journey and it is difficult sometimes and we shouldn't be surprised of the mistakes other people make, because even if we haven't fallen to the ground yet, one day we might. Once you face the truth you can start again because you cannot carry this pain for the rest of your lives.
"The Bishops' faith is strong and persistent in opening the house here in Kendal in the face of many obstacles and negative opposition. When we opened the first house in Saluzzo Italy many years ago nobody would walk past our road! They became very judgmental, even my superiors put their hands on their heads and asked: "Oh that nun! What is she doing with all these drug addicts!" "But the risk you are taking is to trust in God and God never disappoints and he has never stopped working through the Cenacolo in over 23 years. This is your leap of faith. Because nothing is impossible to God. I have seen in Communities many miracles of faith as broken, hurt lives have been transformed. Cenacolo is not a place of rehabilitation but transformation.
"In other communities they let in doctors, psychologists and the social services. The people that we let in are Our Lady and Jesus Christ, and we've invited them in to heal people. "The most effective medicine to alleviate drug addiction is found in the Eucharist. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament has changed the lives of many youths recovering from drug addiction.
What therapeutic method or medicine could I offer them? There is no pill that can give them the joy to live and find peace in the heart. "I want to take this opportunity to reveal to you that the most extraordinary light to come out of this darkness of evil is the treasure found in the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist miracle that I have been contemplating for so many years. The Eucharist creates not only a personal dynamism but a dynamism of the people. At the beginning, of their own free will, many young people staying in community, took it upon themselves to get up in the night for personal adoration. "Then gradually every Saturday night, for many young people the traditional night for party antics all over the world, they decided to kneel, in each one of the 50 communities, from 2-3am to pray for those young people lost in the false lures of the world. "
"I wanted to tell you this piece of history, to give thanks to Jesus, who in the Eucharist has changed the lives of many youths recovering from drug addiction. These people are true, living witnesses that death never has the last word and that the anxieties of life, the struggles for meaning and importance, acceptance and fellowship, should not lead to escape and lies but to the abundant life of Christ."
Bishop O'O'Donoghue echoed Sister Elvira's message. He said: "This, our first birthday, is a tremendously important and historic occasion. There has been a sacred refuge and church here on this holy ground at Dodding Green, since the 1600's where it was once a dispatching place for priests, during the Reformation when Catholic recusants were persecuted by the state. So it is very fitting that we should have the great movement of the Cenacolo Community completing their first year here, in England. Cenacolo is a very precious gift to our church and our world. In Cenacolo we see in a special way what is possible under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. We see conversion in a wonderful way, broken lives being healed. Cenacolo is a treasure not just for the addicts and their families, it is a treasure for all of our Diocese and indeed for society in Britain today. The challenge for us now is to enable Cenacolo to flourish within our society and continually pray that the spread of new houses and communities will grow and develop. This can only be achieved by all of our prayers, therefore we must persist in our prayers to the Holy Spirit that we may grow in strength and commitment to helping the UK Cenacolo's advancement. Today is just the beginning and my message is not to lose hope. We all fail on occasions but it is through failure that we are brought to a new awareness of our conversion, in turning to Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Fr Michael McCormick, Spiritual Director for Cenacolo UK and Parish Priest at Holy Trinity and St George Parish in Kendal has spent some months in Saluzzo Community Italy, experiencing life in the community in order to understand the lifestyle of recovering addicts and holds a support group for addicts and their families, every Thursday evening from 7pm at the local parish: "Addicts who are serious about changing their lives are helped to obtain places in a Cenacolo. During this time we pray together in front of The Blessed Eucharist and afterwards together with other addicts, parents and families we talk about life in the Cenacolo Community and many of the recovered addicts from community are on hand to chat & give their testimony's. Similar prayer and meeting groups are held in Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Devon, Croydon and Bradford. To succeed you have to really want to change your life in a fundamental way, there is no easy way and no short cuts." Cenacolo and its experience as a "School of Life" is about this inner transformation, a work of grace, where we learn once again what it means to depend on God. By sharing in each others' feelings they learn again to understand and feel emotion, feelings which drugs had dulled, and they learn again what it is to be human. They regain a sense of self worth in themselves and others."
As the hard facts of drug abuse reach epidemic proportions across Britain today, the Friends For a UK Cenacolo Communities help and prayers cannot come at a better time. For more information visit: https://cenacolouk.org
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