Anne Keeling talks to a former drug addict about his faith
Damien’s recovery from addiction has been remarkable. After 10 years on heroin, then methadone and all the chaos that goes with it – such as spells in prison – he is now 11 years free of all drugs.
In 2002, Damien was in despair. He had been on a methadone programme for six years. He had become the father of a little girl, who was born a methadone baby, as Damien’s girlfriend was also an addict. Life on methadone was “a horrible life”. He recalls “going to the doctor every morning, drinking your methadone, going home, basically you’re just sedated all the time, it’s no quality of life.” He had begun to feel suicidal.
While Damien had reached rock bottom his family arranged for him to go back to Medjugorje where he had been on occasion in the past. There he called to the Cenacolo Community. This was a community of young men, who were all recovering addicts in different ways, living together in mutual support without doctors, psychiatrists or social workers.
He found out that the Cenacolo Community, which has over 60 houses worldwide, had just opened a house on a 30 acre farm in Knock, Co. Mayo (in 1999) and on return to Ireland he contacted them. To be accepted he would first have to come off all the methadone and drugs. This would prove a painful struggle. He also had to attend some meetings in Dublin.
“I had a hatred for the drugs because they had ruined my life,” Damien says. “I just wanted to either die or get away from these drugs and just live a normal life, but I didn’t know how to do that myself.” His inner strength got him through the month it took to de-tox from the methadone. He then moved in to the community’s house in Knock, where he was to remain for a year before being transferred to the community in Medjugorje.
The Cenacolo way, which is shaped by the vision of the Italian nun, Mother Elvira, who founded it 30 years ago, is one of recovery from addiction through prayer, work and friendship. The structure is the same in all the houses. There is no television, newspapers, radio, internet or mobile phones. The day starts at 6am and includes adoration, working in pairs on various chores like tending animals, cutting firewood, preparing food, cleaning, building and maintenance. Time is given to recreation – football, sports, etc. There is communal prayer and scripture reading and the lads all eat together.
“It’s a full day,” Damien says, “full of work and fresh air and it’s good for the mind and the soul. It’s a great way to get the physical health back.”
There is no paid staff in Cenacolo and no charge for the people who join. Cenacolo gets no Government funding and relies purely on divine providence and the generosity of donors. When they are in need of anything they pray for it. “People just knock at the door with food and with clothes,” Damien says, “and it’s in these moments that you really see God working.”
Cenacolo is recognised by the Church as a private association of the faithful. The community has six priests, 30 nuns and 12 men in seminary and most of these are former addicts.
When Damien left Cenacolo he married his girlfriend. He had a successful waste disposal business for eight years and he is looking forward to the New Year when he and his wife will welcome the ninth addition to their family.
“The most important thing I learned in Cenacolo,” says Damien, “is the treasure of my Catholic faith and the healing power of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“With the help of Cenacolo my wife and I are free from drugs for 11 years and I haven’t missed the daily rosary in all that time. I start my day with the kids in adoration for a few minutes before school, thanking God for a new day and the gift of life.”
While there is no Cenacolo house for girls in Ireland they can join communities in a number of different countries including Italy and France and there is a Cenacolo for girls in Medjugorje. Once they have attended meetings and managed to be free of all drugs they are accompanied on their journey to the house.
“Cenacolo shouldn’t get mixed up with a treatment centre,” says Damien, “because it’s not, it’s much more. What Mother Elvira had in her heart was to give addicts the truth with love, to introduce them to the Risen Lord and to a life of forgiveness, prayer, work and freedom.”
* Anybody with any kind of addiction is welcome to contact Cenacolo. Tel: 087 2687040/086 0644662 or 094 9388286, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org see www.communitycenacolo.ie or write to Cenacolo Community, Knock, Co. Mayo.