BLOUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Nearly three years ago, after turns at rehab clinics and detox centers, Luke found Comunità Cenacolo America in Florida.
Around the same time, so did Blake from Texas. Today both have new lives.
“The community kept giving me the chance to choose better,” said 21-year-old Blake. “It helped me to confront myself and made me realize the person I am and who I want to be as well.”
“This isn’t a clinic or a rehab — it’s a school of life,” said 26-year-old Luke, adding, “It’s wonderful to look in my parents’ eyes with clean eyes and talk to them normally, something I never had before.”
Now people with addictions have another reason for hope to reclaim their lives.
To help turn them around, Comunità Cenacolo (which means Community of the Cenacle, often simply called the Community) dedicated its newest house, named Our Lady of Joyful Hope, on March 20.
Our Lady of Joyful Hope joins the Community’s 60 houses with more than 1,500 recovering addicts worldwide. There are three other houses in Florida, the first one having opened in 1994.
Albino Aragno, director of the houses in places from Florida to Peru, cited two reasons for opening in Alabama. For one thing, Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., requested it.
“It’s because of him we came to the United States,” said Aragno.
As pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Fla., searching for a strong Marian, sacrament-based program to help addicts, then-Father Baker invited Mother Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian Sister of Charity, to open a house in St. Augustine. Through a Vatican connection, he met Mother Elvira, who founded the first Comunità Cenacolo in Saluzzo, Italy.
On Dec. 8, 2005, Comunità Cenacolo was granted pontifical status as a Public Association of the Faithful, and Mother Elvira established men’s and women’s religious orders. They now number four priests from the community; 20 brothers, including 10 seminarians; and 30 Missionary Sisters of the Resurrection in formation.
Second, said Aragno, the number of requests for help became overwhelming.
“When the people knock at our door and want to come to our community, but we don’t have enough space,” he said, “we decide to open another house.”
The process to open Our Lady of Joyful Hope began two years ago on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, when Bishop Baker and the community learned of a property available in the Hanceville area. After praying to St. Joseph, they saw the property and knew it was right for the Community; but at first they didn’t have the funds to purchase it.
“We feel it was through the intercession of St. Joseph we were able to make this a reality,” acknowledged Bishop Baker, who celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving to St. Joseph at the dedication.
The location of this property is ideal. “It really looks like it was built for this community,” said Aragno. The countryside acreage provides peace and contemplation away from the pace of modern society, and the house is well-built in a European monastery style.
Near Mother Angelica’s Shrine
There’s another plus. “Mother Elvira prefers to be located near shrines and monasteries devoted to our Blessed Mother,” explained Bishop Baker. “The advantage to that is heightened devotion to the Blessed Mother and seeking her solace and support in helping people change their lives.”
Our Lady of Joyful Hope is near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, founded by Mother Angelica, where Bishop Baker also dedicated a replica of the Lourdes grotto. Those entering the shrine grounds can see Our Lady of Hope’s property across the river.
“We are a Rosary distance away,” explained Aragno. Praying the devotion on the 15-minute drive there for Mass “prepares you and relaxes you.”
The shrine was the first stop for prayer for him, his wife, Joyce, and the first 12 young men coming to Our Lady of Hope, including Luke and Blake, when they arrived March 14.
“I am convinced that the Blessed Mother has a special concern for these people,” said Bishop Baker. “And their devotion to her includes praying the Rosary three times a day. That is a major part of the structure of rehabilitation.”
Mother Elvira’s program is not a quick patch like the common three-to-six-month programs available. Those entering must stay three years to learn to live a new life in this “school of life.” They live a simple, monastic-style life focused on prayer, working hard, sacrificing, and learning to do things they don’t like to do. She insists on living a disciplined life to correct addicts’ self-centeredness.
Prayer is the foundation. Besides three Rosaries daily, there is daily Eucharistic adoration in each house’s chapel.
“Having the Eucharist in the house and being able to do Eucharistic adoration helped me to heal those wounds that I have inside,” explained Luke. It led him to look at himself and reassess his life, whereas in the failed programs he tried there was no mention of prayer or spirituality.
“Only with the power of God and through prayer I was able to heal the other problems, the brokenness, all the selfishness I was living before,” he said.
Blake credits prayer and experiences in the Cenacle program that helped him turn around. He took his turn as a “guardian angel” for a newcomer three times in a row.
“It helped me to recognize the needs for others and to overcome my selfishness,” he explained.
“We all have a lot of issues, but we get through them by the prayer,” he added, stressing the importance of having the Eucharist in the house.
Residents at the Cenacle pay nothing, and the Community accepts no government funding. Instead, Mother Elvira insists all communities live a radical dependence on divine Providence for all needs.
God always answers. When the new community first stepped into the house in Alabama, people had already put bags of groceries in the kitchen and left keys for a pickup truck parked in the yard.
Aragno pointed out they’ve always experienced divine Providence daily. For two years this newest community could not afford the Alabama property, but “divine Providence found a way to get this house,” he said.
The title Our Lady of Joyful Hope has strong connections to Bishop Baker. It was created in his former diocese of Charleston, S.C., in answer to the Year of the Rosary and the Year of the Eucharist. Our Lady of Joyful Hope combines devotion to the Rosary and to the Eucharist. Although Our Lady of Hope is an ancient title, this is the first known devotion to Mary as Our Lady of Joyful Hope.
Bishop Baker and Father Stanley Smolenski together inspired not only an icon of Our Lady of Joyful Hope, but founded the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina, Our Mother of Joyful Hope, in Kingstree, S.C.
Now the shrine’s director, Father Smolenski explained the important connection for this new Cenacle house. First noting the Vatican document on drug addiction called “From Despair to Hope” directs addicts to have hope, he said of this title, “The emphasis is on joyful because we can have a hope and not be certain of it. John Paul II said, ‘Ours is a certain hope.’ If our hope is certain, our hope is joyful. Mary gives us the certain, trustworthy hope because she brings us to her son, Our Lord. We can be assured of our hope. She gives us joyful hope.”
Adds Father Smolenski, “In his apostolic letter ‘On the Most Holy Rosary,’ John Paul II points out that Mary leads us to discover the secret of Christian joy.”
From all accounts, Comunità Cenacolo America is succeeding through this promise of restoration.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Write to Comunità Cenacolo America, 1050 Talleyrand Ave., Jacksonville, FL, 32206, or visit HopeReborn.org.