Cenacolo Community – A Solution For Mental Health Issues

Prva Gimnazija Varaždin in Croatia was the first stop in the Erasmus+ Amazing Race project. The overall theme of the project is health, with the theme in Croatia being mental health. On Thursday, October 25th 2018, four Croatian students held a lecture, for their visitors from Lithuania, Spain and Finland, about the Cenacolo project.

Cenacolo is a religious community with the goal of helping people change their lives through community, work and faith. The communities are primarily focused on helping people struggling with addiction, but accept anyone who seeks help finding their way. Even though it is a prayer community, religiousness is not a requirement for joining. Cenacolo is funded by donations and by selling the products they grow and make themselves.

The first community was founded on July 16th 1983, in Saluza Italy by Mother Elvira who saw the lost young people in the city unable to fit into society or find meaning in their lives and founded Cenacolo in an old house her church received for use from the city. Soon, people from all directions came seeking help and more brotherhoods were founded.

Mother Elvira was born Rita Agnes Petrozzi in Sora, in the south off Italy, in 1937. During World War II she immigrated to Alessandria with her family. At the age of nineteen, she entered the Sisters off charity’s convent of saint Giovanna Antide Thouret as Sister Elvira. She felt a strong inner drive to dedicate herself to the confused and lost youth she encountered in the streets which led her to found the first Cenacolo brotherhood.

Today, Cenacolo counts 61 brotherhoods in 18 countries including eight in Croatia. Each brotherhood functions as a family based on the principle reflected in their moto ‘Ora et labora!’ (Work and pray!). They help their members to develop themselves through hard work, community, modesty and faith, with the goal being reintegration into society.

Each potential member must participate in a series of introduction colloquiums to verify their intention of joining. When they enter the brotherhood, they are assigned a ‘guardian angel’, another member of the community, to help them adjust. Most people will leave the community when they feel ready to re-enter society, but some choose to spend their lives in the brotherhood assisting new members.

The members’ day starts at 6 am, with their morning routine, followed by the praying of the Holy Rosary and reading of the word of God. After breakfast, they start their work which lasts until evening, with a lunch break at noon and two more Holy Rosary praying in the afternoon. After dinner, they have some free time until they go to sleep at 10 pm. Each member leads a diary in Italian, the official language of the communities, chronicling the events of the day.
The brotherhood of Saint Joseph the Worker was founded in Varaždin in 1996, on land gifted to them by the Ursuline nuns. In 2012, they became the first mixed-gender house in Croatia, accepting mothers with children, wives and girls.

“They’re really kind and welcoming”, said one of the lecturers, who volunteers in the Varaždin brotherhood.

Some members participate in Project Mission. The project has members of Cenacolo, called missionaries, raising orphaned children, recognizing that the absence of familial love and safety in childhood can lead to social and psychological issues in adulthood. The children from the brotherhood attend Catholic schools.

As a conclusion, participants were separated into groups and played a Kahoot quiz on the subject. The lecture served as an introduction for a workshop the students participated in the afternoon, which posed the problem of improving the mental health of Cenacolo’s members. The following day, they visited the brotherhood of Saint Joseph the Worker where the members shared their experiences with the community.


Written by Tija Vrček

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