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Hope reborn in Cenacolo Community for those suffering addiction


The increasing incidence of drug abuse and its devastating impact on individuals, families and communities is well-documented. But what are the options for someone reaching out for help – for themselves or a family member? A unique approach to treating addicts that began in a small village in Italy 34 years ago is having wonderful results.

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After 25 years of drug addiction, Patrick’s despair hit ‘rock bottom’ and he decided to take his life. He caught a lift to the 19th floor of a 40-story tower block in his native Singapore and, while contemplating how to ‘end it all’, the lift bell rang behind him. He turned and watched the doors open. The lift was empty. At that moment he decided to get in and seek help.

He went to a local church and was referred to Jimmy Yuen who recommended help in a special community in Europe called Cenacolo. Since 2002, Jimmy and his wife Irene have been assisting drug-addicted men and women from Asia to enter Cenacolo Community and have witnessed hope restored through amazing ‘resurrections’.

Described as a ‘school of life’, Cenacolo was established in 1983 by an Italian Sister of Charity, Elvira Petrozzi. She came from a poor family of seven children with an alcoholic father and she experienced first-hand the chaos and suffering caused by addiction. As a nun, Elvira was troubled by growing numbers of homeless drug-addicted youth and felt the call to help them.

She prayerfully waited eight years for permission from her superior. On July 16 1983, Sr Elvira was given the keys to an abandoned house, a former orphanage, on the hill of Saluzzo in Cuneo, northern Italy.

Relying entirely on God’s providence, she began providing a place for homeless heroin addicts. The Community grew rapidly and earned a reputation for offering real hope to the most hopeless of addicts. Over the past 34 years, Cenacolo has opened 67 houses around the world and has a presence in every continent except Australia.

A group led by NSW priest Fr Joseph Gedeon has come together with the intention of opening a Cenacolo house in Australia. Last February Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher formally invited the Community to open a house here. As the process is likely to take several years, the group’s current focus is to help men and women in need to enter existing houses in Europe and USA.

The Australian friends of Cenacolo hold weekly prayer meetings by Skype and assist Australians to enter the Community. The group includes Adelaide couple Dr Elvis and Marija Šeman, who spoke to The Southern Cross recently in a bid to raise awareness of how the Community works.

The Šemans have been assisting men and women to enter Cenacolo since 2012 and are impressed with its results. At present there is one man from Melbourne in the Community and by all reports he is ‘blossoming’. The first South Australian to enter Cenacolo completed his life-saving and life-changing journey in 2015. He is now back in Australia, working and doing well.

Individuals who are eligible to enter are those suffering from addiction of any type (alcohol, drugs, gambling, computer gaming, pornography etc) who want to change their life. Entry is voluntary and preparation is important as the best outcome is achieved when the addict and their family journey together, that is, both participate fully in their respective program.  For those who ‘complete their journey’ in the Community, 80 per cent will remain well in the long term, says Dr Šeman. This compares with a success rate of less than five per cent (ie 95 per cent relapse rate) for secular treatments for drug addiction.

The Šemans say the Community offers a safe environment free of addictive influences and provides individuals the opportunity to rebuild their life on a solid foundation of true friendship (which is self-giving), work and prayer. Along the way, many skills are acquired, including other languages. “There are no religious prerequisites and no-one is ‘forced’ to pray,” says Elvis.

“However, those who do best in the long term are the ones who develop their relationship with God.”

In recent years, the Community has accepted non-addicts who are simply seeking time out to find direction in their life as well as those who want to live in a vibrant Christian community.

Elvis says anyone is welcome to stay in the Community for an experience.

Unlike any other addiction solution, Cenacolo charges no fees. The amount of time necessary for each person to heal varies from one to another, and therefore needs to be individualised.

While the Community advises individuals on when they have completed their journey, Elvis says a person can stay for as little or as long as he or she chooses.

However, the best results are achieved by those who remain three years or more.

“The transformation in someone who has gone from rock bottom to coming through the program is evident in the light in their eyes and their willingness to give back to others,” says Elvis.

“They become people of integrity. It’s a miracle. In addition, every person who enters becomes an epicenter of positive change in their wider family. Thus broken families are restored. Another miracle!”

At the end of this year, Patrick heads home to Singapore from Cenacolo UK after spending six years in the Community. In his new life, Patrick plans to assist others to enter Cenacolo by sharing his testimony and participating in a prison ministry. “Thanks be to God, Patrick’s life has been resurrected,” say Elvis and Marija. “As Mother Elvira says, ‘nothing is impossible for God’.”

Mother Elvira Petrozzi

For information about the Cenacolo Community contact Elvis and Marija Šeman on 8295 6616, or visit


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