By Joe Pisani
BRIDGEPORT—Father Adriano Biccheri came to the United States to bring people back to Jesus with a Gospel message that is ancient, but still new.
Recently named priest moderator of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Father Biccheri is a member of a community called Koinonia John the Baptist, which is an association of Christian faithful committed to spreading the Gospel as part of the New Evangelization.
“This is my first experience in this nation, and I see the people of Connecticut have a tremendous gift and put themselves in service of Jesus,” he said. “I love it here because they are accustomed to giving themselves in voluntary service, and for this, I am grateful. I see the beauty of the people of Connecticut and not the negative. There are things deeply Christian in this nation.”
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.”
Joining Father Biccheri are Sister Maire Close, Brother Michael, Sister Letizia, Sister Aide and Sister Diana Laura.
A house of prayer has been formed at Our Lady of Good Counsel, and people are encouraged 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.
Father Biccheri said it was a privilege to collaborate with Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, who was responsible for bringing Koinonia to the diocese a year ago.
“It is the plan of the Lord for true grace,” he said. “We have a great person leading our diocese.”
Father Biccheri said the Koinonia came to Our Lady of Good Counsel to “build it up like an oasis.”
“We accepted this proposal because of the vision of Bishop Caggiano to renew the diocese with the New Evangelization, which is the charism of Koinonia,” he said.
Despite plans to close the parish over the years, the bishop saw the faith of the people and believed that if it was the Will of God to keep it open, the Lord would provide. And then the Koinonia community came.
Father Biccheri said the bishop gave the community “a Christmas gift” by celebrating Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany there on January 8, when the English- and Spanish-speaking members came together to worship. At that time, he appointed Father Biccheri as the priest moderator of Our Lady of Good Counsel Koinonia John the Baptist.
“The members of the parish were open to us and our community, which is founded on the Word of God, service and friendship,” Father Biccheri said. “The active members of the parish share the same passion to transform the church into a center of evangelization and were happy to join these efforts.”
The Koinonia programs include a “School of Evangelization,” with courses to help people grow in the Lord and share their faith with others. There is 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. The longest program is the “Paul Course,” named after St. Paul, which lasts 15 days and teaches people how to evangelize.
“When I think about our church, I think the best way to live together is involving the people in different ministries, so I am fascinated how it serves the Holy Spirit, giving room for people to grow in different ways, from children to young people, adults and the elderly,” Father Biccheri said. “With the grace of God, I would like to foster the gifts of everyone. They have a great sensitivity to the presence of the Lord within them.”
Father Biccheri said older parishioners work in harmony with the newer Spanish members, who have young children. During Spanish formation classes, the English-speaking members assist by caring for the children of the Spanish-speaking members.
The evangelization courses are designed “to rediscover our relationship with the Word of God and our spiritual gifts,” he said.
The parish, which is at 163 Ortega Avenue, has two Sunday Masses, one in English at 9:30 am and one in Spanish at 11:30 am.
Father Biccheri, 46, was born in Citta di Castello—between Assisi and Florence—and came to the United States last year.
“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.”
Last year, he celebrated his 25th anniversary of consecrated life. In Koinonia, there are several years of prayer, service and evangelization before ordination, which generally occurs after a man is 30 years old.
Father Biccheri has served in Rome and Sicily, helping to build another center of evangelization. Later, he became the director for the National School of Evangelization in the Czech Republic. He also had several pastoral assignments. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana (Alfonsianum) in Rome, and taught moral theology at Augustinianum/Marianum for three years before moving to Mexico for another assignment.
In addition, Father Biccheri served as the secretary to the founder of Koinonia, Father Ricardo 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. I am very blessed to be here with Bishop Caggiano, who is a very spiritual person and a man of faith.”
Father Adriano first came to the United States in 2005 and stayed for a month to help set up a Koinonia house of prayer in New York at a parish in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The Bridgeport community is currently making renovations to the rectory of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Father Biccheri says the Blessed Mother is actively interceding on behalf of their efforts.
“She is sending workers to restore the rectory, and little by little, the Lord is sending collaborators,” he said. “Before Christmas, we restored the basement, thanks to the collaboration of a family, who would come in the evening after their day’s work and repainted it for free.”
He said the presence of Our Lady is so important.
“The people love the Virgin and asked her for intercession to keep the parish alive,” he said. “And she sent them a community of evangelizers to bring love to the parish.”
Koinonia began in 1979 after Father Ricardo Arganaraz had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit. The Argentinian was on the track to become a papal nuncio but left the Vatican because he realized the Lord was calling him to something different. 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.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostolate spread through Northern Italy to Europe and Asia and North America. The worldwide community of 15,000 people, includes families, consecrated brothers and sisters, and priests.