Address of Rita Petrozzi (Mother Elvira)
President of the Community Cenacolo
Pontifical Council for the Laity – Rome, October 16 2009
Most Reverend Eminence, Your Excellencies, Bishops here present, and dearest friends,
Words cannot speak of the amazement, the sincere emotion, and the profound joy of all of us from the Community Cenacolo. I am a poor and simple woman, whom the Mercy of God has called to bend over the wounds of the youth of today. I don’t have the education, or the knowledge to make a profound and articulate speech, but I have the great joy to be able to truthfully testify that I am the first to be amazed at that which has happened until this very moment, step after step, in the life of the Community. How could I have invented a story like this?
I am the first to contemplate it, with much wonder and with the joy to be a living part of it. It’s really like our beloved Pope John Paul II said, “… when He intervenes, the Spirit leaves you astounded. The Spirit brings about events of amazing newness, and radically changes people and history.”
The compassion of God for man that brought me to serve these youth who lie on the streets and in the squares of our cities with death in their hearts, sad, deluded, deceived by evil and by the drugs.
Their suffering entered into my heart. Before the Eucharist, it seemed to me as if I were able to hear their cry of pain that called out to me. I saw them “without a shepherd,” without direction, lost, with many things, money in their pockets, a car, formal education, with all the material things that one can have … and yet alone and sad inside, lost in an empty life.
I felt a push within me that continued to grow. It wasn’t my idea, or my project. I didn’t know and didn’t even understand what was happening to me, but I felt the need to give to the youth something that God had put inside of me for them. I renewed my “yes” to the Lord, waiting patiently for His time.
On the 16th of July in 1983, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Divine Providence provided me with the keys to the first house on the hill of Saluzzo.
I thought I was just going to open one house … but with God, things went a bit differently. Young people continued to come and ask for a chance to be reborn. So we opened another house, then another, first in Italy and then in Europe, then the missions in Latin America … I don’t bother counting anymore.
From the very beginning what I wanted for the youth wasn’t just a place where they could recuperate and receive assistance. I desired to propose to them a “school of life” where they could rediscover life as a gift from God to be lived in all of its beauty.
I proposed to them the path that had lifted me up many times, giving me confidence and hope: the goodness of the Mercy of God, the strength of prayer and the complete trust in God’s Providence that has never deceived us.
Through the years, youth joined me, who had decided to give their lives to God, to live sharing the faith in the gratuitous service of their neighbor: arms and hearts were multiplied of those who were completely dedicated to give themselves fully to this work. Yes, it opened wide an unexpected missionary aspect that was never planned!
Then we were joined in this walk by the families of the youth whom we had welcomed, families that were often profoundly wounded as well. The Mercy of God transformed their failings and their desperation into an occasion for conversion, to a new and Christian lifestyle, open to forgiveness and service. Also many friends, contemplating the miracle of the “resurrection” of our youth, found the joy of faith and of belonging to the Church, and discovered faithfulness in prayer as the strength to live the different responsibilities of life in a Christian manner.
Yes a “big family” was formed, made up of people regenerated by the Mercy of God, walking together “from the darkness to the light.” What a great gift we live today, seeing this family welcomed, embraced, and blessed by the Church! We can proclaim, with the voice of the psalmist, that truly, “The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap, seats them with princes, the princes of the people.” (NAB Psalm 113, 7-8)
With profound gratitude I would now like to thank the Bishops of the Diocese of Saluzzo, the place where God’s Providence wanted the Community Cenacolo to be born, who reached out to us with loving guidance.
A special thanks to His Excellency Bishop Bona, who extended “the gaze of God” upon our work, welcoming us into the Church with the first diocesan approval which occurred on Pentecost 1998, the same significant day on which Pope John Paul II met and welcomed all the new movements and communities for the first time in St. Peter’s Square.
A sincere thanks also to His Excellency Bishop Guerrini, who has always kindly sustained our reality from the very beginning of his term in the diocese, giving the definitive diocesan approval, and then fully supporting and blessing, from its very first steps, the walk that brings us here today, to this recognition as an international association.
Then an immense thanks to the Holy Father who, through the dicastery over which you preside, Most Reverend Eminence Cardinal Rylko, welcomes us into the heart of the universal Church.
The heart of Peter becomes the Good Samaritan, welcoming a Community of the poor, of people who have experienced the fragility and weakness of the human condition, but who today are happy to be able to testify to everyone that the experience of the Mercy of God is stronger than every sin, that the Resurrection of Christ is the true victory over death, and that the Christian life is the path to restore dignity and meaning to the life of man.
This gesture of love that we receive today in this Decree of Recognition from our Mother and Teacher, the Church, commits us all the more to be children who are responsible and worthy of this gift and this belonging. It helps us to mature into a faith that is convinced and robust and shows us how to live an always stronger and more authentic bond with the Church through prayer, being living witnesses, through service, and through sincere obedience to the Holy Father and his collaborators.
I would like to conclude remembering a few words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI, addressed to the new movements and the new communities on Pentecost 2006, because I feel that these words are especially “ours:”
In this world, so full of fictitious freedoms that destroy the environment and man, we want, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, to learn together true freedom, to build schools of freedom, to demonstrate to others with our lives that we are free and how beautiful it is to be truly free with the true freedom of children of God.
May Community Cenacolo always be a greater witness to this true freedom of the children of God and an expression of the Maternal Love of the Church who reaches out to the wounds of man, taking care of him and healing him, thus enabling him to find the way home again, the way of Truth that sets us free.
With the joy of Mary in our heart, the joy of the Magnificat, totally entrusting to her our new walk, we express to all of you our profound and heartfelt gratitude. Thank you, thank you, with all our heart, for having welcomed us and listened to us!