AN OVERVIEW OF THE BASIC ECCLESIAL
by Msgr Lope C. Robredillo, VG
[Note: This is the English version of a talk delivered by the author at the First Diocesan Congress of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) of the Diocese of Borongan, participated in by all the parishes, held at the parish church of St Anthony of Padua, Llorente, Eastern Samar, on January 19, 2006]
Introduction: Why the BECs in the Diocese?
The 1997 First Synod of Borongan is a milestone in the history of theDiocese. It enshrines a diocesan vision, and defines its mission to give direction to the life and work of the whole diocese.
Included in its mission is the formation of basic ecclesial communities. With PCP II, the Synod believes that the renewed diocese it envisions finds expression in one ecclesial movement: the BECs. (PCP II, 137). That is why, the 2004 pastoral plan of the Diocese provides for the establishment of the BECs in all the parishes.
What Is Meant by Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC)?
Terminology. In trying to see the meaning of BECs, it is instructive to note that they came to us under various brands. In the 1960s and 1970s, they were known as base communities, basic communities, or grassroots-communities.
But to specify its religious character, and especially its adhesion to the Church, they became known, in Latin America, as communidades eclesiales de base, which is translated as base-level ecclesial communities or basic church communities (CEB). In Africa, they are called small Christian communities (SCC).
In the Philippines, they have various names: Kriska or Kristohanong Katilingban, Gagmayang Kristohanong Katilingban, Munting Sambayanang Kristiyano (MSK), Basic Christian Community.
But why are they called Basic Ecclesial Communities? Before we describe them, let us first of all look at the meaning of each term:
Basic means “at the lowest level of society,” grass-root; they are not at the vertex (diocesan or universal); rather, their members are at the bottom of the social and ecclesiastical pyramid; it also means “coming from the faith of small or simple baptized Christians. The word also refers to their size, which is small—small enough for each member to know each other, yet they are not a barkadahan.
Ecclesial signifies the basic motivation for the BECs—to live and continue the life and mission of Christ in a group of people, who are in communion with the local Church. The members of these communities manifest, experience and localize the Church at the grass-roots level. It is not a natural community.
Community is used to signify that the BECs are not prayer groups, discussion groups, or service groups. Rather, it means that the members live in close proximity and know each other; personal relationships are important; they exercise sharing and mutual help; they have common values, common commitment, and common mission; each member participate in decision making; they face community problems and challenges.
How Did BECs Start?
There is no doubt that the greatest factor that influenced the rise and growththe active participation of the laity and the liturgical reform that allowed Sunday celebration without a priest.
But how did the BECs come into being? In Brazil (Latin America), they started in 1956 with the evangelization movement, which eventually evolved into a situation in which communities without a priest, among other things, would gather around the radio to pray aloud the people’s part of the mass being celebrated by the Bishop and hear his homily. By 1963, there were about 1,410 radio schools.
In the Philippines, the barangay sang birhen of the 1950s is their precedent, since this strengthened the sense of community, but the BECs as we have them now started in the rural areas of Mindanao as a pastoral strategy to renew the Church following Vatican II. Many of them came from existing sociological or parochial structures (chapel organization, neighborhood organization), but were eventually Christianized. While lay people composed them, they were organized and supported by the priest. Others were organized by the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, the NASSA, and the Redemptorist Mission Teams. But no doubt, the socio-economic and political situation influenced the way these were organized.
In Australia, we might single out the Adelaide Archdiocese where the BECs were established by Archbishop Faulkner himself in 1994; he enshrined their formation in the diocesan vision, and asks his priests to move toward the BECs.
How Are We to Define the BECs?
The 3rd General Conference of Latin American Bishops (1979) gave the following description (“Evangelization at Present and in the Future of Latin America,” par 642): “As a community, the CEB brings together families, adults and young people in an intimate interpersonal relationship grounded in the faith. As an ecclesial reality, it is a community of faith, hope and charity. It celebrates the word of God and takes its nourishment from the Eucharist, the culmination of all the sacraments. It fleshes out the Word of God in life through solidarity and commitment to the new commandment of the Lord and through the service of approved coordinators; it makes present and operative the mission of the Church and the visible communion with the legitimate pastors. It is a base-level community because it is composed of relatively few members as a permanent body, like a cell of a larger community.
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines devotes two paragraphs to describe the BECs (138-139): “They are small communities of Christians, usually of families who gather together around the Word of God and the Eucharist. These communities are united to their pastors but are ministered to regularly by lay leaders. The members know each other by name and share not only the Word of God and the Eucharist, but also their concerns both material and spiritual. They have a strong sense of belongingness and of responsibility for one another.
“Usually emerging at the grassroots among poor farmers and workers, BasicEcclesial Communities consciously strive to integrate their faith and their daily life. They are guided and encouraged by regular catechesis. Poverty and their faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for justice, and toward a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy.”
Personally, to me, one of the best descriptions of the BEC, if only because it is easy to grasp, comes from Abp Orlando Quevedo, formerly President of the CBCP. According to him, the BEC is
1) a small grassroots community of believers;
2) that brings together families and individuals in intimate personal and social relationship based on faith;
3) whose members gather together with their leaders to worship the Lord;
4) listen prayerfully to the Word of God, reflect on it, apply it to their daily lives;
5) take nourishment in the Eucharist;
6) share with one another, serve and support one another;
7) in a true fellowship of faith, hope and love—
8) in a word, to evangelize others and at the same time to be evangelized.
Chief Characteristics of the BECs
What are the chief characteristics of these communities? In his book, Charism and Power, Latin American theological Leonardo Boff sees five points that characterize them: (1) an oppressed yet believing people; (2) born from the Word of God; (3) a new way of being Church; (4) sign and instrument of liberation; and (6) a celebration of faith and life.
Following J. van Nieuwenhove, Lode Wosten, in his book, Doing Ecclesiology,consider the following as key phrases in the Puebla description of the BECs: (1) centers of evangelization within a Church fellowship, (2) motive force for the renewal of the Church; (3) and a place, where Christians, especially the poor, (4) fashion their vocation for the service of the world.
On the other hand, Quevedo enumerates 5 characteristics: (1) faith based; (2) Chris-centeredness; (3) Community-orientations; (4) participatory; (5) serving and sharing; (6) love.
For our purpose, the following may suffice:
(1) Poor yet Believing—a concrete realization of the Church of the Poor:
1. They emerge from among the poor, at the grass-roots level;
2. Yet, they are people of faith, they are a community of faith
3. They look at Jesus as the center of their lives—his life is the norm and the inspiration
4. They believe in his promise of the Kingdom of God; God cares for them, and he will eventually change this world into a new one.
5. Contrast feature: They imply that the Church need not always be a Church of the poblacion; it is also a Church of the periphery; it need not always be a Church of the learned, the famous, the money, but also of the illiterate, the neglected, the scum.
6. Contrast feature: They do not profess any ideology (like communism, socialism, or capitalism), rather they draw inspiration from the Word of God, from the teachings of the Church, and look at realities from the perspective of their faith.
1. Their members live in proximity or in the same neighborhood, like a squatter area, or a barangay where they know each other by name, and relate to each other. Thus, it is small enough to permit personal relationship among the members, and large enough to contain itself in its basic needs;
2. They strive to be of one heart and one mind;
3. They have a strong sense of co-responsibility and solidarity; there is mutual care, sharing and support
4. Contrast feature: it is not a church of individuals who do not know each other, who pray alone, who go to mass alone, who think that they go to heaven alone.
1. Participation is absolutely necessary. It is based on the understanding of and respect for the various charisms or gifts;
2. The selection of leaders, process of decision-making, planning, prayer sessions, and implementation of decisions—all these are characterized by the widest member-participation.
3. Charisms are recognized in the ministries: youth, family, liturgy, social action, catechesis, education, etc.
4. Thus, the BECs participate in the life and mission of the Church.
5. Contrast feature: unlike the parish, it is headed by a lay person who leads in the celebration of the Word, the priestless Sunday service, meeting, and other community affairs. Hence, lay ministries are recognized in the small community. It is not hierarchical, but closely connected with the hierarchy in the person of the priest.
(4) Gathered around the Word of God and the Eucharist
1. The Gospel is heard, believed, shared, and lived in the community,
2. The participants reflect on the Gospel in order to interpret the life and events in the community, and see their life and happenings in the light of the Word of God.
3. Therefore, they look at realities and events in the light of their faith, and their reflection on the Word of God.
4. Hence, once or twice a week, the gather for Bible sharing and reflection, usually in one of the homes of the members
5. They study the Bible in relation to their daily life, and draw inspiration
6. They denounce the sins of society in the light of the Gospel.
7. They announce the good news to the society.
8. They gather to celebrate the Sunday service without the Priest.
9. Contrast feature: it is not primarily for an income-generating project, for the building of a new structure, but they gather primarily to hear the Word, receive the Sacraments, and live the Word and Sacraments in their daily life.
9. They have high regard for popular religiosity—novenas, rosary, celebration of feasts, processions, etc.
(5) Sign and Instrument of Development and Liberation
1. They are concerned with the material well-being of their members and the community.
2. They try to build a community of peace, based on justice, freedom and love. Thus, they have health care projects, mutual aid fund, transfer technology in agriculture. Other may have communal farms, or involved in issues of justice and peace, or take position against business malpractices.
3. That is why, during Martial Law, the BECs defended human rights, protested against oppressive laws, etc.
3. Contrast feature: they are not concerned only with the spiritual realities, or with only one aspect of the human person; but with the entire aspects that make the human person—economic, political, cultural, environment, spiritual, bodily, etc. They aim at total human development and liberation.
The BECs in the Diocese of Borongan
In implementation of the diocesan thrust, the BEC program opened in the diocese under two forms, the first one being that of Daughters of Charity (DC), through Sr Alicia Arreglo, DC, diocesan coordinator of the basic ecclesial communities, the second, that of the Redemptorist Mission Teams (RMTs), under Rev Carlo Villaflor, CSsR.
(1) The DC model has several components: formation, community organizing, agricultural component, income-generating projects, cooperatives and health programs. Sr Areglo started organizing basic ecclesial communities in June 1995 in 5 parishes (Guiuan, Borongan, Balangkayan, Lalawigan, and Sulat) and16 barangays. The first seminar was given for formators in October 16-20, 1995. Its initial fund was borrowed from NEWSFi in the amount of P245,000. It later expanded to 10 parishes (Oras, Giporlos, Salcedo, Canavid and San Policarpo) and 57 barangays. When the DC turned over the program to the Diocese on May 18, 2004, it was headed by Sr. Jocelyn Verdadero, DC, whose staff ministers to 52 active areas with sustaining program.
As of 2004, the program covers 11 parishes, with 70 BECs, and is under Ms. Virginia Raagas, a school supervisor of Oras. In this sustaining phase, the BEC Office is engaged, among others, in the monitoring of on-going projects—(a) rice mill in Balogo, Balangkayan; (b) copra buying in Cantubi, Balangkayan; (c)communal farm operation in Caisawan, Balangkayan; (d) tricycle operation in Maybocog, Maydolong; (e) individual income-generating projects in Sto. Niño, Sulat; (f) consumers’ cooperative in Buntay, Oras; (g) consumers’ cooperative in Dao, Oras; and (h) individual income-generating projects in San Eduardo, Oras. More recently, as a result of the BEC-NASSA meeting on August 26, 2004, the BEC Office assists five parishes—San Policarpo, Oras, Dolores, Sulat, and San Julian—which have been chosen to implement the BEC-based NASSA project, which is Empowering Marginalized Sectors through BEC-Based Integral Evangelization.
(2) In contrast with the first which is barangay-based, the other BEC model is parish-based, handled by the Redemptorist Mission Teams (RMTs). The latter operated in Lawaan, Quinapondan, Sulat, Buenavista, San Julian and Sulangan.
As of December 31, 2005, the Diocese has 88 BECs, present in 14 parishes: Arteche (10), San Policarpo (10), Oras (10), Dolores (10), Maslog (2), Canavid (2), Sulat (10), San Julian (10), Borongan (4), Lalawigan (2), Balangkayan (4), Guiuan (7), Homonhon (3), and Salcedo (3).
Final Word: What Does the Hierarchy Say about These Communities?
Since they emerge from the grassroots, one might wonder if theseIt is instructive to note that Popes have given approval and encouragement to these communities. Pope Paul VI, in his 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, calls them a source of hope for the universal Church (n 58). More recently, John Paul II, in his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, refers to them as “a sign of vitality within the Church, and instrument of formation and evangelization, a starting point for a new society based on a ‘civilization of love’. [They] decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united… [These communities become a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel and a source of new ministries. At the same time, by being imbued with Christ’s love, they also show how divisions, tribalism and racism are overcome” (n 51). And in his 1999 apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia (n 25) the Holy Father recognizes “the value of basic ecclesial communities as an effective way of promoting communion and participation in parishes and Dioceses, and a genuine force of evangelization.”
Not surprisingly enough, in 1991 during the Second Plenary Council (PCP-II), Church in the Philippines adopted the establishment of the BECs as the pastoral priority in all its diocese: “Basic Ecclesial Communities under various names and forms—BCCs, small Christian communities, covenant communities—must be vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation in both rural and urban areas. Active non-violence will be a guiding principle in their approach to social change” (PCP II, Art 109). For this reason, the Council directed the Conference to “issue an official statement on BECs, on their nature and function as recognized by the Church, making it clear that they are not simply another organization” (Art 110 #1).
FIRST DIOCESAN CONGRESS ON BECs
Parish of St Anthony of Padua, Llorente
January 18-20, 2006