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July 1, 2009
Pioneer community of fraternas in Denver turns 10
By Michelle Bauman
Like the religious women who established schools and hospitals in the territory that came to be known as Colorado, a small group of consecrated laywomen are pioneers today in this beautiful state and nation.
On the evening of June 12, the Marian Community of Reconciliation celebrated the 10th anniversary of their apostolic ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver with a Mass. Called fraternas, when three Marian Community of Reconciliation members arrived to Denver from Latin America on Dec. 12, 1998, they were the first of their community to establish roots in the United States.
At the anniversary Mass, Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., who made the initial invitation to the fraternas to establish a presence in the archdiocese, spoke about the vocations of the community as a response to Christ’s challenge of Christian life, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
In his homily, the archbishop expressed his gratitude for all that the community has done and reminded them of their calling to be a faithful “community of prayer, in constant relationship with God.”
The fraternas were founded in 1991 in Peru as a community of women who have consecrated their lives to God in order to serve him from within the world. Unlike nuns, they are not religious, but consecrated laywomen. Instead of vows, the fraternas make perpetual promises of obedience, celibacy, and detachment from temporal goods.
The fraternas live together in community and they have many different jobs in the world. Their apostolate in Denver includes leading programs for men, women, youths and married couples, offering retreats and classes, presenting talks, organizing activities and mission trips, and providing spiritual companionship. They also serve in the Office of Hispanic Ministry and with El Pueblo Católico, the monthly Spanish-language newspaper of the archdiocese.
The fraternas live a spirituality that strives to conform their lives with Jesus Christ, seeking to love him and giving themselves to God as Mary did. They live in full apostolic availability, working in the areas of evangelization of the culture, youth ministry, serving the most needy, and promotion of family life. They endeavor to transform the world for Christ by being holy in their daily lives.
Rossana Goñi, 42, had already been a fraterna in Peru for five years when she was sent as one of the first three fraternas to Denver, responding to Archbishop Chaput’s invitation. Now, Goñi is the superior of the Denver community.
Looking back, Goñi said two of the biggest challenges over the last decade are related: to be the pioneer community of fraternas in the United States, and the transition to a new culture.
“But at the same time,” she said, “it has been a fascinating and encouraging process to understand, embrace and love another culture, and to see that it does not matter what country you are from, because the yearnings and longings of the human person are the same everywhere in the world.”
At the Mass, Archbishop Chaput observed that every time the fraternas gather to celebrate important events, they seem to be surrounded by more and more people.
“The numbers keep growing, and that is significant because it reminds us that love leads to love and friendship begets friendship,” he said.
Today, there are seven fraternas in Denver. An additional five women are in discernment here. The fraternas have been blessed by abundant growth in the last decade, not only in Denver, but throughout the United States and the world as a whole. Communities of fraternas are now also present in San Antonio, Texas, and Bridgeport, Conn. There are 170 fraternas throughout the world.
The fraternas continue to be blessed with abundant vocations, a trend Goñi believes will go on.
“I am sure there are more young women who are called to be fully available to the apostolate,” she said, explaining the importance of helping them overcome their fear.
“What we have seen is that people fear to follow the Lord Jesus because they fear to make a mistake, or to renounce the things of the world. This fear comes from living in a hedonistic culture that rejects commitment,” she said. “What they do not realize is that if this is their call, there is nowhere else that they will find fulfillment.”
Eileen Leyne, 28, of Montreal, Canada, is one of the community’s new vocations and the first fraterna from the English-speaking world. Leyne, who has been a fraterna for three years, first met the fraternas in 2003 and was attracted to the coherence between their faith and their everyday life.
“I was struck by the way they radically follow the Lord and the zeal they have for their apostolate,” she said. “They really want to bring Christ to the world, and they are willing to give their whole lives for that.”
Libby Archibald, 26, began going to Goñi for spiritual counseling in 2007. She slowly began to become more involved with the community, and she was struck by their devotion to Mary in all things.
“They make Mary the model of who they are as women and as Christians, and they really make her visible in the world through their lives,” she explained.
Archibald, who is currently discerning with the fraternas, said she was initially attracted by the spiritual motherhood exhibited by them. At the anniversary Mass, Archbishop Chaput spoke of this spiritual motherhood, reminding the fraternas that they are called by Christ to “go and bear fruit that will remain.”
Goñi speaks of this spiritual motherhood as a particularly rewarding experience carried out through the fraternas’ apostolate.
“We live this by being constantly available for others,” she said, “when they need to talk, to share, to trust; when they suffer physically or spiritually; when they don’t know what to do in difficult moments; or when they just need guidance or company.”
Looking to the future, Archbishop Chaput reminded the fraternas in his homily to always live out their calling from God.
“Mary is the mother of reconciliation,” he said. “You walk in her steps, participating in God’s plan to restore all things to himself.”