video suggerito
video suggerito
backstair / Shalom, la comunità degli orrori

Shalom Community exposed: a year-long undercover investigation unveils decades of abuse and deception

Backstair’s undercover investigation has revealed the hidden side of one of Italy’s most renowned therapeutic communities, the Shalom community. Violence, harassment and punishment perpetrated by nuns that has never before been shed light on.
A cura di Backstair
Attiva le notifiche per ricevere gli aggiornamenti su

An undercover investigation has shed light on the shocking truth behind the Shalom community, an Italian religious organization. In a four-part video investigation, Backstair, Fanpage.it's undercover investigative unit, unravels the secrets hidden within this renowned community, interviewing 43 former residents, scrutinizing thousands of official Italian judicial documents, and analyzing hundreds of hours of footage. This investigation has exposed allegations of physical and psychological abuse, questionable financial practices, and the blurred line between religious devotion and exploitation.

In northern Italy, amidst the countryside of the province of Brescia, just a few hours away from Milan, stands the Shalom recovery community. It was founded in 1986 by Sister Rosalina Ravasio, a well-known and praised nun, to accommodate individuals struggling with drug addiction. The method devised by Sister Rosalina and applied to thousands of people is known as "Christo therapy," a controversial faith-based therapy. After interviewing dozens of former community residents recounting various forms of physical and psychological abuse, Backstair decided to investigate what was happening within the facility.

The Infiltration

The Backstair unit contacted an individual closely associated with Shalom and managed to infiltrate an undercover journalist as a volunteer in the women's section of the Shalom community. The journalist spent 29 days and 11 nights inside the community in Palazzolo sull'Oglio, in the province of Brescia, documenting the events.

Gli episodi dell’inchiesta

Even today, the community is managed by its founder, Sister Rosalina Ravasio, along with other nuns. The community houses approximately 250 individuals, not only those struggling with drug addiction but also individuals with eating disorders, psychiatric conditions, troubled minors, and convicted individuals serving their sentences in the community.

Our journalist, posing as a volunteer, encounters Sister Rosalina Ravasio, who invites her to stay. "When you arrive, it feels like stepping into a small oasis, but the heavenly sensation quickly fades," former residents recount. "This community may seem like a small paradise, but no one tells the truth about what truly happens inside," another former resident reports.

The Hierarchy

A precise hierarchy is established within the community: newly arrived individuals are referred to as "gnari" (meaning "youngsters" in the local Brescian dialect); above them are the "mezzi," the middle ones, who have been in the community for approximately two years and are tasked with guiding the "gnari"; and finally, the "vecchi," the veterans, who have been in the community for over five years and are entrusted with roles of responsibility in managing and organizing other residents, even though they are still undergoing therapy.


Within the community, residents are subjected to a therapy created by the founder herself: Christotherapy, a faith-based treatment that revolves around continuous prayer. According to Sister Ravasio, the community's prayer benefits all residents' issues, so no one is exempt from prayer. "If the nun knew you weren't praying, she would insult you in every possible way," "prayer is mandatory," "in Shalom, you're even on your knees for four consecutive hours during adoration, even children are forced to do so," recount some former residents.

Footage captured by the undercover reporter with a concealed camera inside the facility reveals endless moments of prayer: in addition to regular Mass, the women pray throughout the day, reciting psalms, prayers, and songs even while they work. "While religion may serve as a guiding principle, it should not become a form of coercion. Prayer can help someone improve their mood, making them more susceptible. Still, it cannot be a fundamental element of therapy, particularly in the case of drug addiction," explains Claudio Leonardi, a toxicologist, and director of the Frailty Protection Department at ASL Roma 2, as well as the President of the Italian Society for Addiction Pathologies. Tommaso Losavio, a medical psychiatrist, shares the same opinion: "Whether one has faith or not, it has nothing to do with the real problems of people who are suffering. Christ is not a system of healing."


Punishments can take various forms. As attested by former residents, strict rules govern the community, and those violating them are punished. "In this community, everything depends on whether you comply with the rules or not, and the number one rule is that if you don't respect the rules, you end up being punished," recounts a former resident.

The most common punishment is that of the wheelbarrow: "They take a wheelbarrow, load it with rocks, and a person is monitoring you while you walk around carrying it, sometimes for eight or nine hours a day," explains a former resident. "They do it to the most problematic girls. They make you walk with this wheelbarrow full of rocks around roundabout multiple times," says one of the residents still inside the community to the undercover reporter, who captures the scene on camera. "If you didn't comply with their rules, the nun would give you extras," says a former resident.

Other punishments occur in the workshops where residents are forced to work for external companies, which provide funding for the community through contracts. One of the punishments is the silence treatment: "You end up in a corner, unable to speak to anyone." During the infiltration, the journalist films a girl in the corner and asks for an explanation from a supervisor: "She's in a moment of reflection. They have to reflect on how they've misused their tongues." Another resident tells the journalist about her period of isolation in silence: "The others go to sleep earlier, and you stay in the workshop, monitored by a veteran. I did it for two months because once the sink's pipe was clogged, I tried fixing it myself instead of notifying a bathroom supervisor. They wanted to punish my presumption by silencing me."


Both men and women in the workshops are subjected to isolation: "That's the strictest punishment, where certain individuals are isolated. It's a place with a confined group of girls. Let's say that when you do something severe, you end up there," explains one of the other nuns to the journalist. "She would put you in this insane workshop. It's inhumane, where you spend many hours, from nine in the morning until three at night, always locked in isolation," asserts a former resident. Another testifies, "In the workshop, you were kept segregated. I spent five months there, standing all night."

Corrective Method

One of the other nuns explains to the undercover reporter the method used in the community: "Education is always corrective, like the ‘carrot and stick.' You shouldn't feel sorry for these people; they are the way they are because they chose to reduce themselves like this. They weren't unlucky; now they're paying the consequences. They're not innocent lambs; they're scoundrels we're trying to transform to stop them from being jerks and addicts."

Abuse of Psychotropic Drugs

The method used in Shalom includes, in addition to Christo-therapy and punishments, the administration of psychotropic drugs given by the "veterans" of the community. Many former residents have reported experiencing outright psychiatric abuse: "I trembled, my body was swollen, I couldn't stand up. I would soil myself at night because I wouldn't wake up with the urge," says a former resident who spent over six years at Shalom. "A drug addict is a drug-dependent person, meaning they have taken a ‘drug' – heroin, cocaine, cannabis – a substance that has had a pharmacological effect on the brain. The dosages of the drugs mentioned by the residents of this community are excessive and certainly not justified for long periods because some psychotropic drugs lead to a comparable dependency condition, if not worse, than the substances that led this person to be a drug addict," explains Dr. Claudio Leonardi after watching the footage recorded by Backstair inside the facility.

Distribution of Psychotropic Drugs

Psychotropic drugs at Shalom are not administered by healthcare professionals but by the so-called "veterans," who are the older patients within the community. "You were in line, and you had to take your medicines and open your mouth to show that you had swallowed it." The footage filmed inside the community shows multiple psychotropic drug administration instances by these so-called veterans, who are not trained to administer medications.

"Once a girl accidentally took a double dose of Entumin, and her body temperature dropped below 33 degrees Celsius," recounts a former "veteran" of Shalom, who worked in the infirmary. The distribution of psychotropic drugs by unauthorized individuals is "another major anomaly," says Dr. Losavio. "Medications should be kept under control by a nurse and administered by a nurse, even in a facility with five people. How is it possible that in such a large facility, a person with no expertise manages drugs that can have very severe side effects?"

Psychological Violence

Former residents have also spoken about psychological violence: "They would call me ‘son of a bitch, piece of shit, bastard,' they would even spit in my face," reports one former resident. "You're a druggie, you're disgusting, you have no shame," recounts another former resident telling about insults that were referred to her. In the second episode of the serial video investigation, Backstair published some videos filmed in the men's section of the community. In both cases, vulnerable individuals with psychiatric issues were targeted by some veterans. In one instance, an African-origin boy was insulted and humiliated in exchange for cigarettes: "Come on, you fucking n****r," they yelled at him, forcing him to lick the floor. The same former veterans are featured in another video depicting a staged sodomization. One of the veterans films the scene while the other attacks the victim. "Ouch! Ouch! My back!" screams the victim in the video. "This is everyday life at Shalom," Johan Ferruccio, who left the community in October 2022, tells Backstair.

Duration of the Therapeutic Program

Another critical aspect of the situation is the length of the therapeutic program. According to Rosalina Ravasio, the minimum stay should be six years, but many people are forced to stay at Shalom for much longer. The undercover journalist encounters girls in the community for five, six, ten, or even twenty years. This is an excessively long time for Dr. Losavio: "The period spent within this community doesn't make sense because it's not part of a treatment plan but an internment plan. What do these people do after ten years? Where do they go? How are they reduced?"


Many people interviewed by Backstair have stated that they requested to leave the community without receiving a positive response. Many have escaped: "I started going crazy, and they called an ambulance. They took me to the hospital, where they documented all the bruises, and I spoke with the psychiatrist, explaining everything. He told me he needed to involve the police. That's how I managed to get out." Attached to the medical report of this former resident, obtained by Backstair, is a photo of the bruises. The document reads: "The patient reports not wanting to contact parents and not wanting to return to the community. Shows bruises on the upper limbs and lumbar region, widespread skin abrasions." As many former residents report, those who escape are pursued by a "squad" of veterans who go out looking for them. Some escapes have been planned for months: "I started organizing mass escapes – Federico Tozzo, a former resident, tells us – There were four of us, and before the escape, we agreed that if anyone managed to reach home, they would report what was happening to the police, but not the local ones because we didn't trust those in Palazzolo." After three days on the run, first in Milan and then in Bologna, Tozzo decides to return home: "When I arrived at the station in Vicenza (in Veneto region, ed), the people from the community were waiting for me. We got into a fight. They blocked me, put me in the van, and returned me to the community."

The Community Does (Not) Rely on Providence

Rosalina Ravasio, the head of Shalom, repeatedly emphasizes in public and private settings that her community does not receive public funding but "relies on providence." In the third episode of the video investigation, Backstair uncovers the actual financing of the community. Shalom consists of three distinct entities, all under the control of Rosalina Ravasio: the "Piccole Apostole association," a laical congregation guided by Ravasio, which holds the lands and apartments where the community stands; the "Shalom Onlus cooperative," which handles external work relationships, and the "Regina della Pace association," a cultural association used to receive donations and funding.

Backstair has analyzed the public budgets of Palazzolo sull'Oglio, where Shalom is, discovering that approximately €35,000 has been directed to the community from 2012 to the present. Other neighboring cities have also funded Rosalina Ravasio's community, totaling €42,124. The community also receives private donations through the "5×1000" mechanism, and from 2008 to 2021, Shalom received €274,741.

Donations from Entrepreneurs

Shalom's income also includes numerous donations, many of them from the business world. "I saw money being circulated. It was disgusting because she claimed not to receive assistance from the Italian government. It's not about providence. I'm talking about one of the entrepreneurs in the area, close to the nun, whose company generates millions of euros per year." Fanpage.it reached this entrepreneur, who declined to comment, only stating, "You don't know the reality."

The Work of the Residents

Another source of income for Rosalina Ravasio's community comes from the residents' work. The balance sheets of Shalom Onlus indicate that in the past twenty years, the cooperative's turnover exceeds nine million euros, with over five million euros coming solely from the category of "sales and services revenue."

The residents work in the same workshops and serve their punishments. "Within the community, they produce gaskets and hangers-on behalf of third parties," as seen in the videos recorded by the undercover journalist in Shalom's premises. "Just this work brings in commissions of 4,000 to 6,000 euros each time," explains a former resident. As mentioned, minors also live within the community, and according to the testimonies, they also work in the workshops. "You had to work all day. They made you do manual labor, making gaskets or belts, which went on all day. I even had to work in the evenings, and I remember having these gaskets to make in my room," says Nicole Locatelli, a former resident who was 14 years old at the time. "You work all day and even all night," says another former resident, Sheila Gentile, "making gaskets or belts at the age of 16. You worked, worked, worked all the time." Serena Rentoni, who entered the community at 11, recalls working in the workshop: "I was finishing fifth grade, and I was in the workshop where we made gaskets. You stay there all day working with plastic." Jason Mainetti claims to have started working within the community at the age of 12: "There were third-party companies that brought products inside. I worked there for four years without ever seeing a euro."

The Payroll System for Employees

In addition to commissions, income is also derived from a system related to employee salaries, as explained by a former resident who was also a former employee of the Shalom Onlus cooperative: "When you reached the fourth or fifth year in the community, the nun, if she saw that you were committed, decided to hire you as an employee of the Shalom cooperative." "If you look at the balance sheet, you'll see hundreds of thousands of euros in salaries," he continues, "but in reality, it's all money that goes back into the community in the form of donations. We never saw a cent from there."

Backstair obtained a document confirming this system: a statement from Rosalina Ravasio, the head of the Shalom community, stating that the employee, during the period they were a community resident, "did not receive any income. The amount shown on the tax statement (CUD) was voluntarily handed over by Mr. [omitted] to the Shalom Community for their maintenance (food and lodging)." Therefore, the employees' salaries from the cooperative's funds flow into those of the association, funded by public entities.

Donations from Taiwan

The Shalom community also receives donations from faraway places. In October 2021, the ambassador of Taiwan to the Holy See presented Rosalina Ravasio with a check for 20,000 euros. The meetings continued, with the latest one in March 2023, when Rosalina Ravasio and a delegation from Shalom, visiting Rome, met with the ambassador again. Shalom's assets also include testamentary bequests from people close to the community. During the journalist's undercover stay at Rosalina Ravasio's community, she overhears a conversation between a priest and the head of Shalom: "Perhaps, Father, they will give us the doctor's house [omitted]." "If it should be ours, that house is worth between 300,000 and 400,000 euros. I handed it over to the lawyer, and he told me, ‘Sister if there is even 1% of a legal right, that house will be yours,'" the consecrated person affirms.

"She is not a nun."

Rosalina Ravasio, born Rosa, presents herself to the world as a nun, but as shown in the third episode of the video investigation, things are not exactly as they seem. Born in 1949 in Calusco d'Adda, a town in the province of Bergamo, at the age of twenty, she became a nun. At 21, Rosalina is said to have consecrated herself in the Order of Ursulines, but her time among the sisters did not last long. Thirty-seven years ago, Rosalina reportedly left the order to dedicate herself to drug addicts. She recounts Shalom's birth to the undercover journalist during a private conversation: "At the beginning, it was a stable here. My first boys were all HIV-positive. They had been marginalized to the extreme. When I opened the community, it was a boom." From a stable, the Shalom community has grown over the years into a vast and well-known structure. Many personalities from the world of entertainment are close to Rosalina Ravasio's reality, such as famous actors, the coach of the National Football Team Roberto Mancini, and award-winning singers like Francesco Renga and Giuseppe Povia.

Backstair managed to track down one of the nuns who took vows together with Rosalina Ravasio over fifty years ago: "We did our novitiate together. She came to the Ursuline nuns, I think, in 1970. She calls herself a nun, but she couldn't," says the person we meet. Indeed, Rosalina Ravasio, after leaving the Ursuline nuns, founded her congregation, but it is a lay association, so she cannot be called a nun.

The trial

In 2011, four young men managed to escape from the community and reported to the Carabinieri (Italian military police) the mistreatment and violence they had experienced there. Many residents reported not only psychological abuse but also physical violence. According to witness testimonies, the physical violence mainly occurred in a specific area of the community: the woodshed. As a result, in 2013, the Carabinieri installed a camera pointing at the woodshed. The recordings showed men dragging a boy into a corner, followed by one of them kicking and punching him.

The investigations led to the indictment of 42 individuals, including the founder of the community, Rosalina Ravasio, and her collaborators known as the "elderly" (vecchi), who, according to former residents' testimonies, had perpetrated violence and abuse within the Palazzolo sull'Oglio community. The charges included mistreatment and unlawful deprivation of personal liberty.

Thirty-Six victims testified against Rosalina and her methods, including Gianmarco Buonanno, the son of Tommaso Buonanno, who was the chief prosecutor of Lecco at the beginning of the investigations and also a member of the ethical committee of the Shalom community. Later, Tommaso Buonanno became the head of the Brescia prosecutor's office. The prosecutors who initially conducted the investigations, Leonardo Lesti and Francesco Piantoni, left the prosecutor's office a few months after the start of the trial. They were replaced by Ambrogio Cassiani, who requested the acquittal of all 42 defendants, endorsing the methods of Shalom in his final indictment and deeming all 36 testimonies unreliable. According to the panel of judges, there was no mistreatment within the community: "The offense does not exist."

The Prosecutors' Conference

On September 24, 2022, Rosalina Ravasio organized a conference at the community titled "The Dark Shadows of Justice." Among the speakers were Paolo Savio, a deputy prosecutor in Brescia for years and now part of the national anti-mafia directorate, and Luca Palamara, former President of the National Association of Magistrates (ANM). At the end of the conference, while thanking everyone, Rosalina Ravasio mentioned another magistrate sitting in the front row, whom she greeted. It was Ambrogio Cassiani, currently a deputy prosecutor in Velletri, the same prosecutor who had requested the acquittal of Ravasio and the other 41 defendants four years earlier. In the meeting recording, Rosalina Ravasio and Ambrogio Cassiani embrace, and she presents him with a bottle of wine as a gift.

27 contenuti su questa storia
Invia la tua segnalazione
al team Backstair
autopromo immagine
Più che un giornale
Il media che racconta il tempo in cui viviamo con occhi moderni
api url views