The Family Story: The Origins of Mother Elvira
Looking at my story today, in the light of the meeting with God, today I am blessed to be born in a numerous and poor family, that immigrated from the south during the war of 1940-1945, from Sora of Alessrandria.
I am thankful to have lived with my parents and brothers and sisters a life made of many sacrifices. I then lived the poverty of my alcholic father. And so the struggles of my mother having to work long days outside the house to support us. She was a nurse and all of the weight of my family was on her. But however she always carried herself with strength and dignity. Often she made us feel full of serenity and trust. The value of the life however is always more than every problem. The life has taught me since I was little to think of the others always before me, and today I recognize that this has been my richness and my first formation of a human and a Christian.
I remember another refrain that my mother repeated to me everytime that I was in the field of my friends who were much more well-off than us. When we had in the house a piece of bread – at the time of war, it was not easy for us to have that – or when we had cherries my mother said to me “Rita, remember the mouth of all your sisters! You can not put in the mouth something without also giving something to the others”. Like this the discomfort of the poverty has educated us. However, when the gestures of the solidarity say the family, community, and communion say to give to the others, that is when we become a universal family that together can pray the “Our Father”.
In the period after the war there was much poverty. When I was fifteen years old I had to walk without shoes. My father would get drunk every so often and this would cause judgments, shame, humiliation and difficulty that all seemed useless sufferences. But now I understand that God has also guided my life though the fragility of my father, in spite of everything, my teacher of life has taught me what it means to sacrifice. He made me understand what humiliation was… today I feel that I am truly a free woman, aware that in us there is a continual resource of the love of God that permits us to rise to every situation. Today I have found that meeting God illuminates the past and becomes the richness of life and experience. I am not ashamed to say that the fragility of my father was my first university… my “School of Life” , to learn to stretch out my hand to him and others fragile like him.
How the Desire was Born to Give Life to the Community
I realized that here was an abundance of abandoned and outcast youth in this consumer society. I was aware that in the family there was dialogue or communication and that there was a lack of trust between spouses, parents and children. The youth were left alone and I saw them sad in the streets. Within my prayer I began to perceive their cries and their sorrow. The youth have gone to one part and us to the other, and I suffered. I felt in me a push that I was not able to suppress, that always grew deeper, more intense. I did not know what was happening inside of me but I knew there was a will to do something for the youth that God had put there. And so came the call to open the doors to the abandoned, the addicts, and those desparate that I met in the train stations and in the streets. This for sure was not my idea and I want to say this to confirm that which is happening: That this is a story that is happening that cannot be born of the intuition of a poor woman like me. I am the first one surprised of every moment that is happening. How was I was able to invent a story like this?
In Gods Time
The call that comes from God that gives you the capacity and to accomplish things for yourself you would never imagine. It was not easy for me to explain to my superior that which I felt and even more it was not easy for them to understand. I realized well to beleive that what I was asked came truly from God.
I questioned many times, for many years, to be able to open a house that would welcome these youth, and in response came an evident my limits and my poverties... I have not studied, I was not educated or prepared. All this waqs true. But inside of me there was a volcano erupting that was not extinguised and I felt I had to give an answer to God that enriches my gift to give back to the youth. There was a painful waiting but the tenacity and the patience that God gave me was a sign of His paternity to that which was being born.
The waiting was not as difficult and although I suffered because it seemed like I was losing time I waited with much trust and hope. Someone told me: “ Elvira, why don’t you leave your congregation? Then you could do as you desire.“ It was not my intention to do this but it was good having this thought in me. I have waited for this with love, suffering and prayer. My superiors had reason for telling me I was not prepared and not allowing me to go and live in the middle of these troubled youth. There was never a time without the temptation of these thoughts. “Why is this? Why don’t they have trust in me?“ And then I said to myself: “Why should they have trust in me, a poor creature?“ Now I realize all this waiting was really a blessing. It was a labor pain of birth. Today I am particularily happy to be tied with the Sisters of Charity Santa Giovanna Antida Thouret. And that shall remain because we are friends and we are many sisters and amazed really only because they know who I really and and they understand clearly that all of this came from God and not from me. In the fraternity of Comunita Cenacolo house in Borgaro they welcome me in the convent where I was a novice and I thank them for the kindness and generosity that they show me.
July 16, 1983: The Birth of Comunita Cenacolo
I remember the day well: July 16, 1983, the feast of our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I have received the keys to open the house and to begin. When I saw the gate I took a big breath of joy. I remember the dancing inside me. An explosion of the fullness of life inside of me, it was the joy that was with me through this long wait and realizing it was here. Seeing the house in that miserable state made me want to pull my hair out. Without doors, windows, a roof that needed replacement, no appliances, no beds and no money. It was in ruins. It looked often like it was lost but I saw already the house as it is today. Beautifully constructed and full of youth. I was amazed at how the Lord had sustained me, consoled me and comforted me. I thought a big house like this could be big enough for fifty of the desperate and lost but after a short time with my amazement the rooms were already full and there was a struggle inside of me to decide what to do. Life was pushing and the youth were continuing to knock at the door and so we opened another house… and then another and then another and then another. First in Italy and the outside, over here and over there. Now you can’t count anymore.
Trust in Providence
In the beginning we live much poverty because we had nothing if not for the certainness of the trust in God. The God that is the Father that I had discovered when I was still a little girl and learned to trust in Him when the poverty was more raw. There wasn’t anything. Then when I heard my mother repeat a litany: “Holy Cross of God, don’t abandon us!” No one would want to suffer like this but rather I learned at this time in life how important to live the Cross, because she is our Mother and we have to welcome and love her to live the rest of life good. I also wanted the youth that I welcomed to be able to not only speak to God but to see his fatherhood concretely. I said to Him: “I will welcome them and you show them the Father that you are”. In all these years I can give testimony with joy that He has never never disappointed me.
The Name: Comunità Cenacolo
I wanted the significance of our Lady to be central to the name of our community. And so we asked ourselves “Where do you find Mary in the Bible?” One place she is mentioned is in the Cenacle… the upper room. Mary is there with the apostles closed in and full of fear after the death of Jesus. Like the youth of today, fearful, timid and mute. But then with His presence arrives the Holy Spirit, the strength of God, and they transform in a courageous testimony. And so we have the name “Comunita Cencolo”
We love to define ourselves as a community of public sinners. Saved sinners that today want to reveal the infinite and grandiose mercy of God. And this is our message. We want to be this hope alive in mercy - a mercy that’s always alive and always present, active and new to us and to everyone.
The Birth of the Consecrated Brothers and Sisters
At a certain point I thought that of all that was able to be born in the community - the girls, the boys, the couples, families the babies that maybe the last was to be the elderly that had no one. When the girls and guys that presented themselves wanting to be consecrated in our community I was a bit hesitant and thought “How can we do this?” I am thankful because the sisters and brothers are the “pillars” that support community, they are the heart of Community. If I did not exult in that moment, I am exulting now. I dove into this life with a variety and passion that the Lord had already given me… they came to ask me for one more step! Today I am happy to see that some girls and some guys have the capacity to suffer, to give their life without complaining, to give joy, to love and to sacrifice their great richness.
I know very well that I could only stupefy myself because all this is not born with me. My only desire is to believe that God continues to provoke the hearts of many youth with clean and beautiful intuitions. The missions for abandoned babies, for example, those that are born in the heart of someone that came into community wounded and disappointed in the world of adults. That of whom having met the mercy of God, and to have forgiven his father, has felt always a stronger need to do something for many babies that suffer in this world from a cause of selfishness of us adults. For this was born our missionary fraternities for the babies of the streets.
Projects for the Future
I have never programmed or calculated a journey to accomplish. I listen to your lives, reading the inside to see the will of God for us. I would have never thought of opening many communities in different countries, to see the birth of the missions, to send the first missionaries of youth reborn with a new life. I lived to unite my family, consecrated brothers and sisters, voluntary youth that gratefully give their lives. I live for the first stupor of which the Lord is working and desire only one thing… to continue to trust myself in him without the demand to know or the instant before realize his will. All that is born grows and develops day by day, like a pacified river that runs silently in its journey. I feel privileged because it is already a great gift to live the possibility of love today, to have a family with which to share the richness of life, that there is nothing more to ask. The only project is the infinite desire to continue to follow with love and trust the Holy Spirit with Mary wherever she desires to bring us.