The Cenacle Community, known by its Italian name Comunita Cenacolo, is sending men from its Our Lady of Hope house in Florida to South Carolina. On Oct. 8, they will present a play on the prodigal son at Bishop England High School. On Oct. 10, they will give testimonies at the Rosary Celebration in North Myrtle Beach, and on Oct. 11, they will give a presentation at Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia. What is this Cenacolo? And who are the men who make up this community?
Founded in 1983 by Sister Elvira Petrozzi, the Cenacolo is an apostolate of the Catholic Church to people with drug addictions. It takes its name from the small Upper Room where Jesus and the Apostles celebrated the Last Supper. It has 50 houses in 11 countries. Its message of life comes from the revolutionary and enduring message of the Gospel.
In turning to God and relying on his grace, the drug addict who joins the Cenacolo begins to reconstruct his life. He agrees to follow the community’s way of life, which means a strict schedule of work and prayer, no smoking, drinking, television, radio or computer access. It means no weekends off. The person seeking to put his addiction behind him begins to allow God to strengthen his will and order his passions.
Sister Elvira and her Cenacle Community’s way of life take on a concrete expression in faith, friendship and work.
The principal struggle for a young man who comes to the Cenacle is the task of truly knowing himself, of re-reading his own story — his dramas and tragedies — in the light of faith and of permitting God to “weave a passionate story with him.” It is a battle that seeks to redeem not only a fallen person, but, specifically, a fallen body. It is summarized in the chapel altar at the Cenacolo’s Motherhouse in Saluzzo, Italy, which has Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the front and bears the solemn promise: “This day I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7). Each day is a new day and the person, with his burden and trial for restoration, his hope and joy for triumph and perseverance, learns to rely on providence and to trust, not in drugs, but in God alone. Prayer is the essential component of this task and so the men of the Cenacle pray unceasingly. The prayer is intensely eucharistic; they adore the body of Christ as they seek the renewal of their own bodies. They search the depths of their hearts and desires, as they work to convert them and restore their personhood to the “full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13-14).
The community’s offer of friendship comes from the vibrant prayer life. Sister Elvira sees isolation as the fallen desire of the person with an addiction. In the Cenacle, every member has an older member assigned to them as a “guardian angel,” someone who can answer questions, be a sounding board, and who can help in difficult moments. The members of the Cenacle also publicly share their struggles with other members; they are taught to be sincere and to handle their hardships maturely. Responsibility is highly emphasized, and personal accountability — the acceptance of one’s own faults — is stressed and reinforced in the life of the Cenacle. In addition, patience toward and understanding of the shortcomings of others is fostered.
The community also diligently works. Manual labor in the vineyard, garden or animal coops fills most of the day. Always in pairs, the members, resembling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, work out their salvation through sweat and sometimes blood and other times tears. The person finds his creativity and dignity redeveloped. An appreciation of the ordinary and mundane things of life is given. The work, “brick by brick,” serves as a sacramental and helps to rebuild the fallen body and soul. The former drug addict finds new gifts and expressions of himself. He sees the capacity within himself to create, build, organize and perseveringly complete a project.
This is the way of life of the Cenacolo. When so many have given up on themselves or on loved ones, when the darkness just seems to be too strong, when bodies appear emaciated and souls empty, the men of the Cenacle Community have found and want to share light and life. They work to instill hope in each person, particularly the hopeless who have abandoned the possibility of reform.
These are the beliefs that guide the men of the Cenacle. They will visit our diocese and share this message with us. We pray for the grace to imitate their hope and joy, as they continue to rely on these God-given gifts for their own continued conversion and restoration in Jesus Christ.
For more information
Go to the community’s Web site at www.comunitacenacolo.org.