The church offers hope for those lost in the world of addiction

To a fallen world and sinful humanity, caught in darkness and lost in itself, God came and he “pitched his tent with man.”

During the past Christmas season, when Nativity scenes were unveiled, carols were sung and presents exchanged, we remembered and celebrated this saving mystery: God became a man, he took on our flesh and redeemed us. In this truth, each person is able to see the singular dignity and exalted destiny of his fallen body and soul.

While each person struggles to live and incorporate this message into his life, the person who has turned to drugs, who has weakened his will and besieged his desires, has an even greater fight to achieve this transformation.

For various reasons, many of which are associated with unstable families, persons who have turned to the scourge of drugs have chosen an illusory good, a search for meaningless escape, which only leads to a painful hopelessness,  and a constant belief in being misunderstood or ignored.

The church’s mandate and mission to spread the good news of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ takes, by necessity, many diverse approaches and follows various avenues. It seeks to uphold the dignity of the person  in today’s “narcissistic, self-sufficient and ephemeral culture,” as the church’s pastoral document on drug addition, “From Despair to Hope,” terms it. It knows that the fallen person is usually the first one to underestimate himself or belittle his value as a person. To the person who has a drug addiction, who has tarnished this value and damaged his freedom, the church does not stand by idly nor is it silent. To these people, as to the whole of creation, it gives a message of hope and reform grounded in the breathing resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel truths about nature and the human person allow the church, as shown in “From Despair to Hope,” to go beyond mere symptoms and touch the very heart of man, recognizing that drugs are only a deceptive answer to a lack of meaning in life.

The church preaches a message of rediscovery of the person in Christ and joyfully acknowledges the potential for every person to allow God to re-establish his will and reorder his passions. It is a message of hope. Christ gives to humanity its reason for existence and the means to reconstruct his creativity and resources which were buried.

Within the vast network of services offered by the church, one apostle is Sister Elvira Petrozzi, foundress of the Cenacle Community. Sister Elvira felt a strong call within her heart to minister to the most alone and excluded youth, to those with lives marked by drug addiction and scarred by despair. In 1983, in an abandoned villa in Saluzzo, Italy, her ministry began.

Her 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.”

 The “Christotherapy” preached permits the distinction, perhaps for the first time, to be learned between pleasure and joy, selfishness and love, a chemical high and existential fulfillment. She argues and is a witness 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 us to escapes and lies but to the abundant life found in Christ.

Sister Elvira points to faith, friendship and work as concrete means to reform and perseverance.

From Saluzzo, Italy, the Cenacle Community has spread to more than 40 houses, including one in Moscow. The Cenacle was introduced to the United States in Florida by Bishop Robert J. Baker when he was a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine. The Florida house, the St. Vincent de Paul Farm, is presently the only Cenacle Community in the United States.

Sister Elvira and her Cenacle Community, as well as the other services provided by the church, serve to instill hope in the lives of those who struggle to overcome addictions and to assimilate their lives in Christ. To them and their families, the church boldly announces the redemption of suffering, the restoration of the fallen body and the renewal of the wayward soul. It is a message of hope offered to all.

For more information
The full text of “From Despair to Hope” is available at
Information on Sister Elvira and the Cenacle Community in Florida can be found at
Jeff Kirby is a seminarian of the Diocese of Charleston.