“Thank you, Mother Elvira”

Mother Elvira, founder of Comunità Cenacolo in 1983 to provide hope and healing to those suffering from addiction, died on August 3.

“Thinking back to Mother Elvira, I have always seen her as a person who has been able to believe in me since the beginning of my community journey. I have always felt loved when no one believed in me anymore, I was sad and lifeless. Through the community she has always shown herself to be a faithful, courageous and free friend. She has never spared me anything but I have always felt truth and love from her really hard outbursts that would penetrate me with sharp words determined to give those beautiful shocks that have done me great good!! I can only say 'Thank you, Mother Elvira for the trust you have given me, for the strength to persevere and for the gift of faith that supports me every day. Without meeting you, I probably wouldn't be here anymore and I wouldn't have truly been able to meet God's love. In recent years where your voice was no longer heard but your presence was there, it fell to us youngsters from the first hour to carry on the work that is not ours but God's. A big thank you for everything and forever!!”
– Albino (Responsible of Cenacolo Communities of America)

The little I know about Mother Elvira comes from my moments with the Cenacolo community in St. Augustine, Florida. The first time I heard about her, I was visiting the community during the annual Festival of Life in 2022. My cousin, a former resident of the Cenacolo community, had just moved back to St. Augustine after finishing his degree at Franciscan University and invited me to come and see the place and the people that had journeyed with him for 4 years. During the weekend, Albino gave a brief history of the place which included the story of Mother Elivira and her heart for troubled youth.

While I admittedly do not remember many of the details Albino recounted that day, what I do know is my cousin’s story and the stories of several others who have been nursed back to life by the Cenacolo community. All of these stories are beautiful witnesses of how a little Italian woman’s ‘yes’ has played and continues to play a crucial role in transforming the lives of so many young people from a life of pain into one of great hope for the world. My cousin’s life is a beautiful testimony of the redeeming power of Christ. During his time at Cenacolo, he learned how to keep his heart open, how beautiful his desires are, and how good life is. What he discovered in those years is what I want to discover for myself!

On another occasion, several of the Florida CL communities gathered in St. Augustine for a day of reflection at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche and concluded with an evening at Cenacolo’s women’s house. We arrived at a bustling home full of women so excited to be cooking for us and sharing a meal with us. What surprised me was the familiarity that was immediately evident upon entering their home.

During dinner, a few of us shared a brief history of Communion and Liberation along with testimonies of how the movement has been instrumental in our lives. In turn, a few of the women stood before us to tell us the history of how Cenacolo came to be and who Mother Elvira is, telling us their own stories along the way. As they described the circumstances that led them to this place, I was overwhelmed by a palpable hope that left me in awe. We shared some of our favorite songs from the Songbook and they shared some of their original music written during their time in community. Their eyes were full of life and I found myself begging to live the way they lived, taking nothing for granted.

As part of the tradition of Cenacolo, each community has a chapel of perpetual adoration in which they pray at regular times during the day and after the meal. They invited us into their quaint chapel (that they built themselves!) to pray. We found ourselves, probably 80 in total, kneeling in unity before the Blessed Sacrament and we shared some moments of praise and thanksgiving for having been given the gift of one another. It was a simple and beautiful gesture and one that left me grateful for the Church and all the ways in which she reaches her people.

Following the death of Mother Elivra, I am eager to learn more about this powerhouse of a woman and to pray for the recognition of her sanctity.

Caroline, Gainesville, FL