Koinonia, an oasis of prayer in diocese

BRIDGEPORT—Fifteen years ago, Maria Sandoval Romero began a house of prayer in her Stamford home and regularly prayed that a spiritual oasis would someday flourish in Connecticut. As a member of a community called Koinonia John the Baptist, she would travel several times a month to retreats and prayer sessions in New York.

Today, her prayer has been answered. Koinonia John the Baptist has come to Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Bridgeport, and the association of Christian faithful, recognized by Bishop Frank Caggiano, is committed to spreading the Gospel as part of the New Evangelization.

“For 15 years, Maria prayed for an oasis in Connecticut and her prayer was heard,” said Sister Maire Close. “The Lord was faithful to her, and we believe houses of prayer will spring up all over Connecticut and become beacons of light in the darkness.”

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 a community.”

Sister Maire, who joined Koinonia in 2001, says, “It’s a tremendous blessing to be here because the Lord is doing something tremendous in Bridgeport and Connecticut.” Joining her in guiding the community is Father Adriano Biccheri, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Koinonia John the Baptist “Oasis of Bridgeport,” Brother Michael and Sister Letizia.

“We are so happy to be here because we know the Lord has a plan to bless Bridgeport and Connecticut through our community,” she said.

A house of prayer has already been formed at Our Lady of Good Counsel to encourage people to do the same thing in their homes and invite their family, friends and neighbors for one hour a week of reading the Word of God, praying and furthering the fundamental mission of Koinonia, which is to draw people back to the Church.

The group, which purchased the property at 163 Ortega Avenue from the diocese, also plans to restore the church and is seeking financial assistance to rebuild the rectory so their community can live there.

The Federation Koinonia of John the Baptist has thousands of members worldwide, including families, consecrated brothers and sisters, and priests. Individual Koinonias are centers of evangelization and spiritual life, and members get together regularly to grow in their faith and train the faithful to evangelize.

“Our focus is the New Evangelization, and our mission is to evangelize in the spirit of John the Baptist,” Sister said. “We help people grow in their relationship with Jesus through prayer and through community. Koinonia means ‘community,’ so we encourage people to come to the experience of Jesus with one another.”

The community is developing a calendar of events for the faithful. and they recently had a barbecue and social gathering at Our Lady of Good Counsel.

“We see ourselves as an oasis that is springing up, bringing life and something new,” she said. “This will be a fertile piece of land in the middle of the desert, feeding the weary traveler. We want to give people a new experience of Jesus and what it means to have him in your life. Koinonia is rooted in the Word of God, and we water people with the Word and bring healing and restoration and renewal during this time of weariness. Our hope is that through everything we’re doing we will also attract young people.”

The Koinonia programs include a “School of Evangelization,” with courses to help people grow in the Lord and learn to share their faith with others. There is also a “Philip Retreat,” offered in Spanish and English, which is inspired by the story in Acts of the Apostles when St. Philip baptized the Ethiopian.

“This offers an encounter with Jesus in and through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Maire said. “This two-day retreat over the weekend is an experience of new life.”

The longest program is the “Paul Course,” named after St. Paul, which lasts 15 days and teaches people how to evangelize.

The Koinonia community began in 1979 after Father Ricardo Arganaraz had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit. The priest from Argentina was on the track to become a papal nuncio but left the Vatican because he realized the Lord was calling him to something different. As a result, 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 a worldwide association. As the community increased so did its evangelization efforts, attracting larger numbers of the faithful who were hungry for a life of prayer, sharing and evangelization in the tradition of St. John the Baptist, Sister Maire said.

Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostolate spread through Northern Italy to Europe and Asia and North America.

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

Sister, who is from Northern Ireland, joined Koinonia in 2001. She came to the United States in 2008 and began working in Los Angeles, where she stayed for seven years, before moving to New York City and coming to Bridgeport in March.

The worldwide community of 15,000 people, includes families, consecrated brothers and sisters, and priests who “follow our spirituality and walk with us in the experience of Koinonia with the goal of growing in Christ and gaining the courage to speak about Jesus to others,” she said.

“We need to be courageous,” Sister says, “We can’t hold back because Jesus needs us and we have to be the mouthpiece for the Lord. We have to be modern prophets who are not afraid to witness to Jesus. This is what we want to share with others.”

By Joe Pisani