Sunday, May 15, 2016

Comunità Cenacolo: A Solution to Some of Canada's Problems

A street view of the front entrance at Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje
Cenacle Community (Comunità Cenacolo) in Medjugorje, Herzegovina

If you have never heard of Comunità Cenacolo (Cenacle Community in Italian), it is a Catholic community whose outreach spans to many parts of the world, striving to respond to the needs and desperate cries of so many people (men and women), mostly young, whose lives are troubled due to: alcohol abuse, drug addiction, depression, disappointment, and those searching for joy and the true meaning of life. Those that enter the community do so as a matter of acknowledging that they have a problem, and need help to find the solution, to change their lives for the better, and begin life anew.

It is said that the worst death is the loss of all hope. At the Cenacle Community, hope is rekindled in each individual, strengthened by God's blessings and graces, and a community experience, where each individual quickly realizes, "I am not alone." Where once darkness and sadness filled the lives of these individuals, it is replaced by light and joy; the beginning of a new simple, family-orientated life centered on: work, prayer, faith in God, communication and interaction with each other, and those that visit Cenacolo (many pilgrim groups visit to hear testimonials), all of which is reinforced by the group recitation of the entire Rosary, imploring the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


An image of Sister Elvira Petrozzi, smiling with her hands held out.
Sister Elvira Petrozzi
Comunità Cenacolo was first established in Italy in 1983, by Italian Sister Elvira Petrozzi, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, whose concern about the troubling conditions of so many youth in society, prompted her to petition her superiors for the freedom to pursue what she discerned to be, a new calling, the Cenacle Community. It took several years for Sister Elvira to be given the freedom to pursue the call, but once released, she set out, with two other fellow religious, Srs. Aurelia and Nives Grato, to establish the first community.

An abandoned old house in Saluzzo, Italy, a town in the province of Cuneo (Piedmont region), served as the humble beginnings of this community. On July 16, 1983, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Comunità Cenacolo officially opened. It wasn't long before troubled young people began arriving at the door, and so began the work of what would later become an international ministry. Currently, there are fifty-six houses spread throughout the world: Italy, France, Croatia, Medjugorje (Herzegovina), Ireland, Brazil, Austria, Dominican Republic, and Mexico. There are also four community locations in the United States: three in St. Augustine, Florida (one being a house only for women) and one in Hanceville, Alabama.

I was first introduced to the Cenacolo Community during my pilgrimage to Medjugorje in late June'2014. It afforded me the opportunity to see, first hand, the many "fruits," that have been harvested in the "spiritual orchard" of Medjugorje; a place that Saint Pope John Paul II referred to as, "The spiritual center of the world."

During my visit to Cenacolo, I listened attentively to the testimonials of two young American men (see photo below) who revealed the details of their troubled lives to a group of pilgrims that I was apart of. It was fascinating to watch and listen to them; they truly were powerful witnesses of God's grace and work being accomplished through their lives at the community. At the time of their testimonials, it was abundantly clear that they were well adjusted to community living, and were well on their way to living a normal and virtuous life, closely connected to God and Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

Recalling that visit to Cenacolo, I can not help but think of the scripture passage from John, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)


Two American men Comunità Cenacolo, Medjugorje providing testimonials to pilgrimages
Two American men from Comunità Cenacolo in Medjugorje, giving their testimonials to pilgrims.
The photo to the right is Sister Elvira Petrozzi.

Since my visit, I had not thought too much about Cenacolo. Certainly the community came up in conversation with other Medjugorje pilgrims, but what prompted today's post was inspiration I received stemming from my attendance at the annual Marian Day of Prayer conference in Toronto on May 7. At that conference I was reunited with three other Medjugorje pilgrims, two of which were guest speakers at the conference: Diane and Ben Wasiniak, a mother and son team whose testimonials spoke of the effectiveness, success, and necessity of Cenacolo.

Ben and Diane were such powerful witnesses because of their personal experience with Cenacolo in Medjugorje. Ben entered Cenacolo on May 25, 2012, and left on June, 2, 2015. As he put it, it was "three years and breakfast," meaning, once he completed his time there, having made the successfully transition, the next day he had breakfast, and it was time to go. Cenacolo had served its purpose, he was a new man, changed for the better, prepared and strengthened to meet the challenges ahead, and close to God and Our Lady. On a personal note, I can tell you that Ben is an extremely personable and likeable young man; it was a pleasure to have met him in Medjugorje, and spent time with him in Toronto.

Cenacolo is not only a time of transition for its members, but also for many of the parents whose children are in the community. One can only imagine the impact upon parents—as well as to loved ones, other members of the family, and friends—when someone they care and love is besieged by serious trouble. Those of us who attended the Marian Day of Prayer conference, were given a glimpse of all that a mother goes through, with Diane's testimonial. As a devout Catholic, Diane prayed for her son, "kept the faith," and did all that she could for Ben while he went through his transition, part of which included meetings with other parents whose children were also in the community. Here is how Diane described those meetings:
Parents are asked to attend a meeting every first Saturday to get together to support each other and discuss the current topic. It is a spiritual exercise to discuss how we need to examine ourselves and make changes. There are different regions based on location that parents meet and some parents travel eight hours or more to attend. It is extremely important to be involved and parents are expected to attend. We have Mass, then breakfast then recite the Rosary and then have the meeting. It is a great support for parents.
An image of Ben and Diane Wasiniak giving their testimonials at the Marian conference.
Ben and Diane Wasiniak, giving their testimonials at the Marian conference

During Ben's testimonial, he pointed out that Canada does not have any Cenacolo communities, and that we all need to pray that Cenacolo comes to Canada. It was a point well made, and well received; one that seemed to remain with me in a significant way. As to the exact reason why, the answer became clear the next day on Sunday, as I spent some time in prayer, and reflected upon the conference. Amongst all that I had seen and heard, what stood out the most was Ben and Diane's testimonials about Cenacolo. In response to that inspiration I began to write the first draft of this post.

Ben is absolutely correct, Canada could certainly benefit from several Cenacolo communities. The effectiveness of Cenacolo makes it worthy of pursuing. I completely agree with Ben, we need need to pray for this, and if it is God's will, it will be.

If you are wondering what a day in the life is like in Cenacolo (Medjugorje), below is a summary that captures the core of each day's schedule:

  • The day begins at 6:15am, where the community gathers in the chapel to recite the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, on their knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • One individual is committed to reading the Gospel, and shares how it has affected his life in community. Each day, a different individual reads and shares the Gospel experience.
  • After the Gospel sharing, everyone eats breakfast together.
  • Community work begins after breakfast. Depending on the particular location, this could mean tending to animals, gardening, landscaping, construction, or an ongoing community project.
  • By 10:00am, the community enjoys a five-to-ten minute break with a snack, then it's back to work.
  • At lunch (Noon), everyone eats together, but first the community recites the Angelus, and a thanksgiving prayer for the food they are about to eat.
  • After the community has eaten, there is thirty-to-forty minutes of sharing with another member. Community members pair up for this sharing; one that is by choice and consensual. Pairing changes each day, due to the importance of sharing with someone different. This goes on until approximately 1:15pm.
  • After which the community walks together reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, with the special intention for Sister Elvira.
  • Work continues after the Rosary is recited.
  • At 4:00pm, there is another five-to-ten minute break, with another snack.
  • Work continues for a bit, then a decision is made with respect to some free time. It may mean a quick football (soccer) game, practicing singing, the playing of musical instruments or something else.
  • By 5:30pm, everyone is expected to be showered and ready for prayers in the chapel, where the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are recited.
  • The community eats dinner together, after which they recite another set of the Mysteries of the Rosary.
  • Bedtime is 9:00pm.

If it all seems somewhat regimented, it needs to be. It is important to develop a consistent daily routine, one that will help each individual to develop positive work and prayer habits, discover and learn new things about themselves, grow in virtue, and make that positive transition to a new life.

Although most aspects of community life are readily understood, there are times when what appears to be obvious, does in fact have an added meaning or purpose. Case in point, the example that Ben shared at the conference; the task assigned to him of picking individual blades of grass from gravel or rocky parts of the landscape. At first, Ben loathed the idea, but it soon proved to be a learning experience, a time of discovery about himself. 

Plucking individual blades of grass takes time and patience, and patience is something that Ben needed to develop. In addition, he also learned to be obedient. Ben was assigned to picking blades of grass on more than once occasion. It wasn't long before Ben welcomed the task, knowing that it had a personal meaning for his own journey. This example spotlights how Cenacolo is very much a community experience, but also an individual journey.

If you are wondering how Cenacolo deals with issues and problems, the community has the answer: the Responsible, who is the person in charge of the entire community. The Responsible, works closely with "work groups," to discuss any issues or problems, and they are typically dealt with quickly, so as to not allow what may be a small problem to develop into a bigger one.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Cenacolo is that it operates solely and completely on Divine Providence, which manifests itself in many ways: volunteers, donations, assistance from local families and communities, help from consecrated religious, and other ways. Medjugorje is blessed to have two Cenacolo communities, one for men and one for women.

The Cenacle communities throughout the world are truly something special; God's love and mercy reaching out to those lost souls, who need to be found. Perhaps it would be most fitting to end my post by quoting from the Cenacle Community's web site, "We are the first to be amazed by what the Lord is working in front of our eyes, and to thank Him because He makes us daily witnesses to His Resurrection, in the strength of which we see every day life return in the smiles of people who had lost all hope."


Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)










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