Founder of Koinonia visits Bridgeport community

By Joe Pisani

BRIDGEPORT—Fifty years ago, Father Ricardo Arganaraz was on track to become a papal nuncio for the Vatican, but then something happened that changed his life forever. And it would change the lives of thousands of others.

The Holy Spirit led him in a new direction, a direction that inspired him to found a community of believers committed to the New Evangelization and to bringing people to a life-changing encounter with Christ.

The priest from Argentina had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit and left the Vatican because he realized the Lord was calling him to something different, so he withdrew to a secluded mountain area in Italy with three others to pursue a life of prayer, work and study.

During those early years, while living in solitude, they laid the foundation for what would become the Federation of Koinonia of John the Baptist, a worldwide community that has attracted thousands of the faithful, hungry for a life of prayer, sharing and evangelization in the tradition of St. John the Baptist.

The community spread through Northern Italy to Europe and Asia and North America. Today, the community of 15,000 people worldwide, includes families, consecrated brothers and sisters, and priests. Koinonia is a Greek word that means “fellowship, sharing in common and communion,” and its mission is “to promote the New Evangelization through activities, training programs and the formation of community.”

Now 88 years old, Father Arganaraz recently visited Bridgeport to spend time with one of the newest communities at Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel at 163 Ortega Ave., which began two years ago with the approval of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and has been called “an oasis of Bridgeport.”

In an interview conducted in Italian by Sister Maire Close of the local community, Father Arganaraz talked about the role of Koinonia in proclaiming the Gospel and bringing people to personal encounters with Christ.

“In truth, the Koinonia was born as a community that evangelizes,” he said. “Not a catechetical community but a kerygmatic community, that is, a community which goes all around the world offering kerygmatic formation through the proclamation of Jesus as Lord: Jesus, true God and true man, who has given us his Spirit.”

Sister Maire explained that “kerygma” is a Greek word that means “to shout out loudly or proclaim” and that the first step in evangelization is to make a proclamation about Jesus as Savior and Lord, who loves us personally and unconditionally. With that comes a recognition that we are sinners and Jesus is our Savior, who died for us and sent us the Holy Spirit to give us new life.

Father Arganaraz said the Lord uses different signs to reveal “where he wants us to be” and that Bishop Caggiano was such an instrument, leading Koinonia to start a house of prayer in this diocese.

“His availability, openness and willingness to birth a community of Koinonia here gave us great joy,” Father Arganaraz said. “It’s important therefore to realize that we are important for the diocese because the bishop wanted us!”

In addition, the Koinonia community fulfills a need in Fairfield County, he said.

“I don’t see other communities that make such forthright kerygmatic proclamations of Jesus, and this must be the first step in evangelization,” he said. “It’s the foundation of the house, and catechesis is the roof of the house.”

His hope for the future is that the courses and sessions about evangelization, which Koinonia offers, will prepare the faithful of the diocese to proclaim the kerygma. Koinonia’s primary work is to encourage people to come to the experience of Jesus with one another and experience firsthand the personal love of the Risen Christ.

“This is our characteristic as a community: planting schools of evangelization and wherever possible a center for evangelization,” he said.

The prayer community is part of the Charismatic Movement, which began after Vatican II.

“The Charismatic Movement is very important because it reminds us that catechism is not enough,” Father Arganaraz said. “Catechism is an evangelization after the person has received the Lord Jesus and has received the Holy Spirit. To catechize before the experience of Jesus is incomplete because catechesis is to form the person who already knows Jesus and whose life is under the action of the Holy Spirit. So the Charismatic Movement is an extraordinary event of the Spirit as a response to the years of Vatican II because it comes out of the experience of Vatican II.”

Father Adriano Biccheri, who was named priest moderator of Our Lady of Good Counsel more than a year ago, has worked to spread Koinonia worldwide. He first came to the United States in 2005 and stayed for a month to help set up a Koinonia house of prayer in Brooklyn.

Father Biccheri also served as the secretary to the founder of Koinonia, Father Arganaraz, and traveled around the world, promoting the New Evangelization.

“I received a lot of experience being with him and seeing how the Lord was using this man of faith,” Father Biccheri said. “That was a tremendous experience. I had the privilege to meet many people of faith, and the Lord accompanied me to let me know these wonderful people.”

“My roots are very Catholic, and I knew the Lord Jesus in a personal way when I was 19; I belonged to an ecumenical prayer group and discovered the charismatic renewal,” he recalls. “After a year, I met Koinonia in Rome, and practically from the first meeting, the Lord gave me a lot of signs he was calling me into that community as a consecrated brother. When I was 20, I entered the first year of discipleship in the community of Rome.”

Joining Father Biccheri are Sister Maire Close, Sister Letizia Girelli, Brother Michael Bertaja, Sister Aide Roman-Escamillo, Sister Katka Barkociova and Brother Pablo.

“We are consecrated and lay people together, who see ourselves as disciples of the Son of Mary,” Sister Maire said. “When you bring people to an encounter with the Lord Jesus, it changes your life.”

Sister Maire, who is from Northern Ireland, joined Koinonia in 2001. She said: “It’s a tremendous blessing to be here because the Lord is doing something tremendous in Bridgeport and Connecticut. Our focus is on the New Evangelization, and our mission is to evangelize in the spirit of John the Baptist. We help people grow in their relationship with Jesus through prayer and through community.”