|Men from the Queen of Martyrs Cenacolo house at Dodding Green|
with the Cenacolo Community founder Sr Elvira.
• A group of people, aware of the suffering of the young, meeting with our Community... an understanding Bishop who opened his heart, offering a house in his diocese... the prayers of many friends who, in spite of the numerous difficulties in the beginning, never gave up,... have made possible the birth of this new (2005) fraternity ‘Our Lady Queen of Martyrs’ on English soil.
It is most certainly down to the grace of Our Lady that the Cenacolo house opened in England. In fact, during a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Medjugorje a group from England came to know the Community.
Some of the English pilgrims could see at close quarters the reality of our two fraternities in Medjugorje and breathe in the air of peace, joy and hope that exists there. They realised that it would be good to be able to bring this hope to many of the lost young people in their own country.
And so, in the middle of the 1990’s, and in the hearts of pilgrims, was born the desire and the initiative to bring the Cenacolo Community to England; a project which came to involve bishops and priests of the Church and eventually leading to the founding of the charity: ‘Friends for a UK Cenacolo’. These worked and prayed fervently to realise this desire, meeting on a weekly basis, persevering in prayer in front of the Eucharist for this intention without ever losing hope.
Our Lady of Knock also had a part to play in the journey of this fraternity, because during a visit to the Irish House, Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue, at that time Bishop of the English Diocese of Lancaster, came to know of our Community and also the desire of the group of English ‘Friends.’ The providence of God then went to work and a short time later the Bishop offered the Friends a property at Dodding Green near the town of Kendal. This property had housed clergy and was complete with a chapel, and a history of over three hundred years of faithfulness to Christ, even unto martyrdom!
In May 2003 the Community came to visit this property, and with much emotion and joy agreed to open a House in Dodding Green. This was a particularly special gift because during the great persecution of Catholics in England in Reformation times, the Holy Mass was always celebrated in the secret chapel of Dodding Green and many priests found refuge there. In this parish seven priests have given their lives for the faithful and have been proclaimed martyrs of the Church. It is because of this that Mother Elvira called the fraternity ‘Our Lady Queen of Martyrs’. From this moment, our own Way of the Cross began because many of the local people were afraid of the drug addicts and were opposed to the opening of the House.
Many appearances were made by the faithful friends at the government’s public enquiry, but finally the faith, the hope and Our Lady overcame the challenge. From those early days the relationships between the local people and the Community are much improved. A group has been created, bringing local people together in order to build friendships and the neighbours have been invited to the days of celebration in the House.
The majority of those who were against the Community have changed their minds now that the Community has been there for a few years and they can see for themselves the good work that has been done.
And so, on March 11, 2005, the first group of nine young men arrived with Fr Stefano to open the fraternity on this land soaked with the blood and courage of many Christian martyrs, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for they gave us the example of using the grace of God to persevere, which we can all receive in the times of trial.
In his homily the Bishop welcomed us, praying that, “This House can be dedicated to the work of renewal, to the restoration of the lives of the people; that it be a light and example to all of us.” He then thanked all the Friends for persevering in prayer and concluded, “Something big, something blessed and something beautiful is awaiting us here.”
The following year mother Elvira came to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of the House and her presence brought much joy and hope to the men, to the Friends, and to many others too.
When the Community arrived in 2005 the house was in need of some ‘tender, loving care.’ There was an old barn at the risk of collapse which today stands tall and proud, thanks much work and Divine Providence. The upper floor has a large meeting room which can also be used for Mass when necessary. Below there is a storage facility for tools, a wood and metal workshop, a place where the men’s work clothes are stored, and an area where the items made by the community can be seen.
In the years since the house opened one of the main tasks has been the reconstruction of the stone walls around the property. Today they are a sight to behold. More recently new paths have been laid around the house and this work is on-going. A stream which often caused flooding in the grounds of the property has been reconstructed and only adds to the picturesque nature of the surroundings. The next big project will be to reconstruct part of the ground floor of the house to make a bigger dining room and a new kitchen.
The House at Dodding Green can welcome up to sixteen men but it is only in recent years that this number has been reached. In the first two years very few who entered actually stayed, but through prayer even some of the toughest English youth are growing in affection towards Cenacolo. The House has an international flavour: Dutch, Italian and more recently even a couple of American residents.
The Community is always busy with various jobs: in the garden growing fruit and vegetables, the animals (sheep, pigs, ducks, geese and chickens), the maintenance of the old house and all the simple, daily tasks like housecleaning and generally keeping things in order.
The men often give testimonies of their ‘resurrection’ wherever they are asked. The Catholic High Schools invite us to come and share our stories with the students.
In these last six years a group of local Friends has formed which, along with the Trustees, is always available to help sustain the House. In general we are very fortunate to have a group of people who support us in this way. Many parishes in the Diocese regularly send us providence and this is a sign of how the Community is loved and respected.
The job of reconstructing and restoring the house goes on, but also and above all, the restoration of the lives of us men who arrive in the Community to enrol in the ‘school of life’. Here we learn to become the men that the Lord calls us to be.
A special thank you to all the priests who have committed themselves to helping us and who have followed our Community in the last few years; and to all the Friends who appreciate what we do and who knew that with humility and faith, love could win the day.
• Adapted from the the Cencaolo Community magazine, Resurrection.
• For further information about the Cenacolo Community at Dodding Green visit the FRIENDS FOR A UK CENACOLO website.