The Cenacolo Community: A New Life for Addicts Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 22 March 2007 21:14
The story of an amazing ministry and community. From an article by Kristina Cooper in Good News newsletter, UK.

"The Cenacolo community was founded by Sr Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian nun in 1983. For many years she had been concerned by the destruction she had seen among young people through drug abuse and she longed to help them. Since she had no formal training to work with addicts and the charism of her order was teaching, it was 8 years before she managed to persuade her superiors that this was a genuine call of God and to release her for the work.

She began with two companions - a fellow religious, Sr Aurelia, and a teacher Nives Grato. They were given an abandoned old house in the city of Saluzzo in Italy, which was leased to her by the city for a dollar a year, and on July 16th, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Cenacolo community officially opened. Soon young people began to arrive on her doorstep needing help and the work began.

While secular de-tox programmes will use methodone and other drug substitutes to wean people off hard drugs, Sr Elvira has a completely different method. She believes that the problem of the young people is not so much one of chemical dependence on drugs, but that drugs are the only way that these young people have found to cope with their problems in life. She sees her job as showing them, a better and much more effective option - Christ.

The Cenacolo is not so much a therapeutic community or drug rehab centre, as a school of life with prayer at its heart. The young people are thus put through a kind of intensive spiritual boot camp where they leam to live in a totally new way - to accept a simple lifestyle, and to rediscover the gifts of work, friendship and of faith in the Word of God, instead of relying on the crutch of drugs to escape from everything that is too painful to deal with. In their brochure the Cenacolo members explain their biggest problems are not the chemical withdrawals but re-orienting their lives.

One of the keys to the healing of the drug addicts is the role of their "guardian angels". These are fellow addicts who are further along the spiritual journey, who can offer emotional and spiritual support to new boys. The guardian angels provide 24 hour support for their charges, listening to them, encouraging them, making them cups of tea if they wake up in the night troubled, or even doing their work for them, if they feel too ill to do it.

The programme also teaches the addict to embrace the suffering and pain in their lives and give it to Christ through prayer, particularly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Thus they learn in a practical way that these things can be carried with the grace of God and the love of community without having to resort to chemical escape mechanisms. Those who successfully complete the programme emerge not just healed of their addiction but strong, vibrant Christians with a heart to give and serve, particularly to help others who are suffering in the way they did in the past.

There are now 47 communities world wide, with 1500 people in them, as well as many prayer groups and support groups for the families of addicts."

The Cenacolo community in the US is in St. Augustine, Florida.