God Will Surprise Us with the Fruits of BEC (Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle)_ English Translation

(This is an English translation of the talk of His Eminence Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, delivered in Tagalog at the Manila Archdiocesan General Pastoral Assembly (MAGPAS) on June 7, 2014 at the Paco Catholic School auditorium at 11 a.m.)

Thank you for your faithfullness in attending our MAGPAS. I thought no one would come due to the many activities happening at the same time. But thank you so much, we did not abandon this monthly formation and forum. Like we mentioned before, the MAGPAS will be used as a forum not only for additional information or new added knowledge but also to continually listen to each other towards a unified action of a renewed church. I am also thankful for the Year of the Laity for having this opportunity to form our MAGPAS to help achieve our dream of a renewed church.
Fr. Benjie Ledesma, our expert on BEC explained in previous sessions the vision of BEC. I told him, I might not have anything to add anymore to what he had already said. If there is some repetition, I apologize. But I heard some of your questions, so I would like to share based on my own experience on that matter.
I will start by adding to what Fr. Benjie had said, reminding us that next year-2015, is the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Imagine this ecumenical council that gave a vision of a “Renewed Church”, Vatican II is in its 50th year. It started in 1962 and ended in 1965. Who among you were already living in 1965? Do not lie, tomorrow is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will blow and those who will lie will be blown away! See, almost half or more than half among all of us here were already alive during Vatican II. The vision of Vatican II which is already 50 years old is found in the beautiful documents; i.e. Lumen Gentium, (the Church), Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Liturgy),; Verbum Dei (the Word of God and Divine Revelation); Gaudium et Spes (the Church in the Modern World),; Apostolicam Actuasitatem (apostolate of the laity); Presbyterorum ordinis (On the priesthood),; Christus Dominus; ( the Bishops), also documents about the means of communication, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, the renewal of religious life, also on seminary formation- a “Renewed Church”.
Then in the Philippines, there was the Second Plenary Council (PCP II) so that Vatican II will be applied in our situation in the Philippines. It was held in 1991. The result was theActs and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council. It is already 2014, so PCP II was 23 years ago. Vatican II is 49 years this year, on the way to 50 years next year. PCP II, which is our local acceptance of Vatican II for a Renewed Church in the Philippines is already 23 years old. How many of you were born already in 1991? Maybe all of us. Is there anybody who is 2 years old here? No one, isn’t it? So we may say that, all of us here are children of Vatican II and PCP II. If we say, we are the fruits of Vatican II, we are the results of PCP II. May the real fruits of the renewed church promoted by the Vatican II and PCP II be seen in all of us. There might be some who are asking: Why keep on talking about BEC? You know, according to PCP II, from the Acts of PCP II, the BEC is the face of the Church in the Philippines that truly renews the Church. . I tremble as I say this. According to PCP II: “An expression of a Renewed Church is the Basic Ecclesial Community”. It seems I hear PCP II saying, “do you have BEC?” If the answer is none, then PCP II might conclude that, you are not yet renewed.
Do not stare at me that way. I am not the author-it’s PCP II. That’s why here in Manila, we are promoting this because the decrees of the PCP II state that, “Basic Ecclesial Communities, under various names and forms, BCCs, Small Christian Communities, Small Lay Communities, Covenant Communities, must be vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation in both urban and rural areas.” It’s a decree. The BEC should be promoted vigorously for the full living of our vocation as Christians. Awhile ago someone asked that, many are saying that it is easier to build BEC in the province, but it is difficult here in the city. But the PCP II said, “it must be vigorously and diligently promoted not only in rural areas but in the urban areas as well.” And that refers to us. The PCP II did not say, build the BEC only in places where it is easy to build. The PCP II stated that, the BEC should be promoted whether it is easy or not easy. This was 23 years ago. That’s why some would ask me, why the BEC is mentioned repeatedly. It is because it seems that those who were born in 1991 and already graduated in college did not promote it. Did we promote it? Shall I continue? I said earlier, I apologize if there is little repetition because maybe within 23 years we have forgotten many things. I will do this quickly and then I will proceed to the little stories and experiences as my sharing to those who were asking questions earlier when I arrived.
Let me repeat what PCP II said especially in this “Year of the Laity”. This is very important. According to PCP II, one sign that the Church is renewed is the presence of the Basic Ecclesial Community. Whether we call that Basic Christian Community, Small Christian Community and Covenant Community, that is BEC! That is the indication of a Renewed Church or community. But if we look PCP II, what is the Renewed Church? This must be experienced in the BEC. It is not enough that we count the neighbors. Say you have ten families, are you already BEC?! Not necessarily. Those ten families might just be playing bingo. And while the grandfather and grandmother are playing bingo, the husbands and wives are playing cards — “cuatro cantos.” When you group ten neighbors, it does not automaticatically mean that they are already BEC. It’s a start. It should be the expression of a Renewed Church. And what are the characteristics of a Renewed Church? There are five characteristics.

First is communion. A priest told me: “Cardinal, it seems that your favorite word is communion because you always mention the Church as communion in your talks to the priests.” I feel I am under compulsion, I am under obedience, to promote it. I have not invented it. It does not come from me. All of us should promote this vision of the Church as communion. According to PCP II, communion is unity in diversity. In spite of our diversity we are one, although we have different backgrounds and states in life, different talents and histories, others have a rough life while others have it easier and smooth. . Others have been injured while others have fortunately been without blemish. Our differences do not hinder us from becoming one. Communion opens my heart and my doors to anyone. When Jesus said, love your enemy. I can not even choose a person who is totally different from me, not even an enemy. I should love them with the love that binds. It’s unity in diversity.

What are the other characteristics of communion? Equality in dignity. It doesn’t mean that just because one has a college degree and the neighbor finished elementary, they are already isolated from each other in the community. We may not have the same educational or cultural backround but we are equal in dignity as human beings and as Christians. There is communion. I do not look at how smooth a person’s complexion is. Or whether she looks like she has often been out in the sun and appears like she comes from the lower class. “Wow! He speak Tagalog or English — he really has quality. And this one is obviously, “barrio-tic” (from the barrio) in his appearance.” That is the standard of the world. But in the Renewed Church of Communion, whatever the diction and whatever the complexion of our skin , we are all equal because we both have the same dignity, created by God as human beings and baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus and God the Father. We have communion. Do we experience this communion in the BEC? Does our diversity or differences hinder our solidarity? Is there discrimination in our midst? The Renewed Church as Communion is more genuinely experienced in the BEC. And this will go forth throughout the parish, diocese and the whole world.

The second characteristic of the Renewed Church is participation. We know that the participation is about contributing. Everyone accepts. It can not be just me receiving and I do not contribute anything. Others contribute but they would not accept anything from others. “He seems to know everything. “I can do it. I know that already.” He is the one that gives, but does he receive? “No! That lessens my dignity!” Participation is two ways: Everyone gives, everyone receives. According to PCP II and this is very true in the Year of the Laity, participation in a special way means enabling the lay people to participate more fully in the life of the Church and its task of mission. Participation of the laity in the Philippines has a necessary emphasis. And what is that? That the laity must even share more in the life of the Church and its mission. Why? Because it seems that the life of the Church and the mission of the Church depend only on the priests and religious. So the PCP II vision of a renewed Church in the Philippines is that there should be a fuller participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. Father is not there in your neighborhood. He does not live there. Sister is also not there unless there is convent in your neighborhood. Those of you who are there, how do you live as disciples of Christ? Don’t invite Father “Father, you live in our BEC.” No! You are the ones that carry out the life of service, the life of mission and following Christ in your neighborhood.

The last time I gave a talk to you, I mentioned several images of the Church. One of these is the priest-centered Church. – The priest is the Father of Perpetual Help who is expected to solve by himself the problems of the people: “Father my husband is drinker, “My husband is gambler Father”. “Father what color is our banderitas in our festival? Even if the patron is “Our Mother of Perpetual Help”, the parish is actually Our Father of Perpetual Help. According to PCP II, the Church is not renewed if only one person or a few people are acting or doing all the work. Communion leads to participation. There. So, hopefully, in the BEC, there is full and active participation of the laity.

Third: community in mission. We do not form communion, participation, for ourselves only. Otherwise the community becomes closed or inward looking. It’s like, “you look at me, I look at you, we look at each other. We are a community. You and me against the world.” Closed. The church is not like that. According to PCP-II: a renewed Church is a community — a community in mission. That is why we need to form a community that will respond and that can be sent. So, our community must exist for the world; it must address the concerns of the world. According to Gaudium et Spes: “the hopes, the joys, the pains, the sorrows of the men and women of our time.” That’s where inter-religious dialogue comes in. There is the work for justice, work for peace and our concern for homeless, streetchildren and farmers (by the way, thanks for the special collection held for our farmers.), those who are victims of human trafficking.

I have just been in Rome and in the United States. A man came to me and said:, “I heard you say on Youtube about migration and human trafficking in New York. I am a victim. I am a teacher from the Philippines. An agency recruited me for a teaching job in America. I spent almost a million. When I arrived in America and went to the school, I found out they were not hiring teachers. I called the people from the agency but they changed the telephone number.” He was alone. Can I tell him: “Well, I belong to a community. Look for your own community. My only concern is my community. If you do not have a community, sorry!” But that is not renewed Church. If you are truly a community, open your walls so that you can hear the call of the Holy Spirit through your fellowmen especially the least, the oppressed and the poor. Being a community is not an excuse to be blind, deaf and hardened. The living community is vigorously engaged in mission. Otherwise, the BEC becomes simply a “barkadahan” – a gang. “Our community against a neighboring community.” That is not Renewed Church! That is the beginning of World War III! We do not want that to happen. So, the BEC is Communion, Participation and Community in Mission.

Fourth: A priestly, prophetic and kingly people. In other words, a people living their baptismal grace and calling. Through our baptism we share in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly mission. We share in the priesthood of Jesus, by living in holiness. We participate in Jesus’ prophetic mission by proclaiming and living the Word of God. In sharing the kingship of Jesus doest it mean that we act as Kings and Queens? No, tshare in the kingship of Jesus is to serve. Priestly people-holy people. Prophetic people- living the Word of God. A Kingly people-serving people. To be Holy, is to live the word of God and to serve.

Finally: the renewed Church in the Philippines that should be experienced in the BEC is the Church of the Poor. First of all, living evangelical spirit of poverty. Being poor means relying in God and not in worldly wealth. God is our treasure, and in him we rely. So sometimes when someone asks me: “Cardinal, can we do this project? We have no money.” I answer: “is our mission dictated by the availabity of money? So if there’s no money, no mission?” Fulfill your mission and the money will come. Even if there’s no money coming in, you still carry out your mission. Anyway, you have mouth, hands, tears and heart. I can not accept that we can not fulfill our mission just because we do not have money. Who is the one sending us? Money or the Lord? You are not answering! Who is sending us? “God.” Thank goodness no one answered” “money”. I thought some would answer money. It’s like being Church and the missionaries are always being motivated by money. So the Church of the Poor, that’s the first. You are not dictated by money rather you are dictated by your trust in God who sent His Son. The Son who became poor so that we can be enriched by His Father.

So evangelical spirit is a special concern for the poor. Although we are to love everyone, we have to live in a special way those who need our love more — that is the poor. The Church of the poor is where the poor are not discriminated against because they are poor. Being the Church of the poor means sharing of resources. Church of the poor means not being alone. It is partnership with the poor. The poor are not merely recipients of aid from the higher class, the educated and rich. The poor are also means of evangelizing the whole Church. The poor can teach us a lot and we learn from them. Communion, participation, community in mission, a priestly, prophetic, kingly people and Church of the poor. That’s the nature of the Renewed Church in the Philippines. According to PCP II and Vatican II, these characteristics should be seen in the genuine BEC.

So the BEC is not just a society or grouping. It must be experienced and lived by the Renewed Church. And that was the first of God’s grace but also we must exert effort. Just like couples. May I know how many of you are married? Are you happy or not? Whether you are happy or not you have a spouse. Do you still remember when you made your wedding vows? Or have you forgotten? You remember what day, time and place? Making your wedding vows was just the beginning of a long journey. You have to work out what you promised to each other. You gradually decide and renew. Maybe, you felt offended. You said: “Honey you give me coffee. And he gave you orange juice. You told him: You’re not listening to me. And he replied, eh, you’re not speaking clearly.” There it is! Is that how you talk? Because of coffee and orange juice, you offend each other. The next morning you decide whether to talk to your husband or not? Will you continue despite him/her? But you decide. Alright, what do you want for breakfast? You renew your relationship with him/her. So you will not have to wait until the anniversary. You pursue some experiences, you renew the relationship, you renew the vows, you renew your being a family. Just like the Church. We keep on renewing. Building communion is always threatened by division. Renewing participation is always being threatened by indifference or domination. Renewing our community as a missionary community is threatened by a false sense of community which is inward looking and protective of itself. Renewing our baptismal vocation which might become simply a ceremony. And renewing our commitment to the poor.

So hopefully, as Father Benjie said earlier, we do not think that the BEC is just an organization. That is true. The BEC is an expression of a renewed Church. This is not just an organizational ploy or strategy. At the heart of this is the Church renewed.

You should know clearly that because of communion in the BEC we can not exclude our neighbors who seem to have problems in the family. We have to reach out to them. We go back to Jesus’ example. Who were Jesus’ first companions? These were fishermen who were uneducated and who didn’t have anything to be proud of. One was a tax collector – Matthew- who was regarded as sinful. Zaccheo was also a corrupt tax collector. Judas, a traitor. There were the sick – the lepers – whom everyone tried to avoid. The children that were turned away. Scandalous women whom Jesus allowed wash his feet. The Pharisees, who considered themselves pure, were furious. “If Jesus was really the son of God, he should not have allowed the sinners to come to him.” Who do we serve? Are we disciples of Jesus or the Pharisees? Jesus! So do not follow the Pharisee. Can we be a Christian community if the basis is not Jesus Christ, but rather the Pharisee?

There are those who say that it is difficult to build BEC. Who said it is easy? Is it easy to start a family? Those of you who are married, raise your hand. Is it easy to raise your spouse? It’s hard right? Because your mission is to form your spouse as a full disciple of Christ. So the wedding is beautified to forget the hardships the married couple will later undergo. After you have children, you will have son-in-law or daughter-in-law. You will relate with them. Is it easy? No, and you can not say, I have already graduated from taking care of them. Eventually you will be having grand children. And you will be taking care of them. You try a different parenting style. Many grandparents today are back to baby sitting. Is it easy? There’s no easy life. Maybe those who find it easy are the pickpockets and thieves. But those who are forming a truly dignified community, that is pro-God, pro-people, let us not complain. That’s part of the process. If you are not experiencing any difficulty, maybe you are not building a community. Nobody said it will be easy. But if you really strive diligently, you will be surprised by the fruits that are already there, even if you might not have noticed the ways these came to be.

Let me finish here. In our parish where I grew up when I was a young priest, there was a BEC program – bible based. It was amusing, because my parents’s house, our house, was part of the BEC in the neighborhood cluster. The bible-sharing was held in the houses in the neighborhood, so they were able to go around and visit all the houses. Whether large or small houses, the families took turns in hosting the bible-sharing. Then they realized the BEC would die out if they were only just meeting for bible-sharing. So they had bible-sharing only once a month There was a weekend to spend with your family. There was a weekend devoted to community service.They did different activities weekly such as meetings, family gathering, cleaning the drainage, visiting the sick, and singing birthday songs to birthday celebrant. It was enjoyable. All widows were visited. So being community is not limited to just conversation and study of the Bible, there must be action.

You know, there are just two of us brothers in the family. My sibling is in another country. I am a priest and I do not stay at home with the family. You know I found the result of the community there. My parents were working in Manila and other neighbors are owners of sari-sari store. I was surprised. I found out later that when my mother and my father came to Manila, they bought goods for their neighbors’ sari-sari store so the neighbors would no longer have to go to Manila. I was surprised, because the initiative came from them – helping each other .And very specific – according to their needs.

My brother and I seldom go home. We visit our parents during fiestas. Once I went home. I saw lots of food on the table. I told my mother that cooked lots of food. She must have been tired. She said: “Oh, it’s not me who did all the cooking”. The BEC helped her in cooking. Because they knew that the children were not around. They washed the dishes as well. And at night, my mother gave the food to them as take-home to their families, not the whole village …

And finally, when there was a south wind, I called them. I said “Mother, Father, the waters are rising you go upstairs so you won’t slip.” Reluctantly, they went up. Later, I called again to ask how they were. They told me not to worry. There was no need to go home. The neighbors helped them bring their belongings upstair. And when the waters subsided, the neighbors help clean the house. So, who says it will not work? I am a witness. Thanks to BEC, I am at peace, because even if I am not always physically there, I know there is a bigger family caring for and looking after my parents. It is not easy, but God will surprise us with the fruits of BEC. Thank you.