Basic Ecclesial Communities:
Agents of Communion, Participation and Mission
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has declared 2017 as the Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities. The CBCP pastoral exhortation “On Era of New Evangelization” describes the focus of this year:
“This is a year when we more deeply discern not only the structures of governance of our dioceses and parishes but also of the quality of faith life in the parish, the fellowship, belongingness, and participation by its members. In a special way we shall probe into our efforts of making the parish a communion of communities, a communion of Basic Ecclesial Communities and of covenanted faith-communities and ecclesial movements. We shall discern and implement measures on how communities of consecrated life may be more integrated into the life and mission of the parish. In brief, our focus will be the building of a parish that is truly a faith community immersed in the lives of its people.”
The priority for this year is forming and revitalizing of Basic Ecclesial Communities in every parish as agents of communion, participation and mission with the active participation of other faith communities, lay organizations, movements and associations (LOMAs).
The theme of 2017 is in line with the PCP II vision of a renewed Church which is also based on the Vatican II vision of the Church: The Church as Community of Disciples that live in communion and that participate in the mission of the Church as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people and as the Church of the Poor. For PCP II, this vision of the Church finds expression in the Basic Ecclesial Communities.
PCP II links communion with participation and mission. “Participation is a very important aspect of the Church as communion…In the Philippines, participation largely means enabling the laity to participate more fully in the life of the Church and in its task of mission.” (PCP II 98-99).
The link between communion and mission is further emphasized when PCP II asserts that “the Church is a communion in a state of mission.” Participation in Mission as Communion does not simply mean that everyone – from hierarchy to laity – participate in decision making process or in governance. Participation is linked to Mission – especially the three-fold prophetic, priestly and kingly mission.
Thus, the Church is communion that participates in mission. The BECs which is considered as a new way of being Church is likewise the locus and agents of communion, participation and mission.
In this article, I wish to expound what BECs are and in what way they are agents of communion, participation and mission.
In referring to the parish as communion of communities – the primary reference is to the BECs although not exclusively. The BECs are local communities of Catholic Christians at the neighborhood and villages within the parish. The members are close to one another and relate to each other as friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord. They gather regularly to share the Word of God and live it in their daily life, to pray and celebrate their faith. They share their resources and find ways to help and serve one another and those who are poor and address their problems.
They are known by many local names (GKK, GSK, MSK, Gimong, SISA, etc.). There are various forms and shapes
Chapel-centered communities – 40 to 100 families
Chapel-centered communities with family groupings or cells (composed of 7-15 families per FG) –
Family groupings/cells without chapels (link all FGs as one community/BEC)
PCP II recognizes the BECs as expression of the vision on a renewed Church which includes communion:
“Our vision of Church as communion, participation and mission, Church as Priestly, Prophetic and kingly people, and as Church of the Poor, a Church that is renewed, is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement. This is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities.” (#137)
“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 responsibility for one another.” (PCP II 138)
St. John Paul II describes BECs as part of the effort to decentralize the parish community and regard them as expressions and means for a deeper communion:
““These are groups of Christians who, at the level of the family or in a similarly restricted setting, come together for prayer, Scripture reading, catechesis, and discussion of human and ecclesial problems with a view to a common commitment. These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a “civilization of love.” These communities decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united. They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor and neglected, and of commitment to the transformation of society. Within them, the individual Christian experiences community and therefore senses that he or she is playing an active role and is encouraged to share in the common task. Thus, these communities become a means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.”
“Because the Church is communion the new ‘basic communities,’ if they truly live in unity with the Church, are a true expression of communion a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the Church.” (RM 51)
How can BECs be genuine expression of communion? The members experience the bond of unity which is based on shared faith, celebrated in the breaking of the bread, concretely expressed in the sharing of material goods (Acts 2:42ff).
In the BECs the members know each other, they have a strong sense of belonging and responsibility for one another. They live as brothers and sisters, as community of friends – kapuso, kapamilya, kaibigan and kapitbahay. The Catholic families are linked to other families in the neighborhoods and organized as family groupings or BECs cells. The neighborhood cells or family groupings are linked to each other and comprise the chapel-level or area level BECs. These BECs are linked to other BECs.
There are lots of celebration and table-fellowship in BECs – with simple common meals to fiesta celebration. The celebration of the Eucharist is more meaningful because it expresses and celebrates the life of communion – of unity, friendship, sharing and participation among the members.
The sharing of time, talent and treasure is an essential expression of communion. This means practicing a spirituality of stewardship. This generates a spirit of volunteerism (sharing of time and talent). Some BECs adopt a modified tithing system (sharing of treasure) which is voluntary by nature. There are also mutual aid systems and income generating projects designed to help the members who are needy and even those who are not members of the community. Some BECs in the rural areas have set up communal farms. Many have organized cooperatives.
In the BECs, the members express their communion more fully as they unite and actively participate in fulfilling their threefold mission. This is the prophetic mission – of proclaiming and giving witness to the Word of God, the Good News, as well denouncing the manifestation of evil in society. This is the priestly mission – through active participation in the liturgical celebration. This is the kingly/servant mission – of working for the kingdom, for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. This is a mission of social transformation.
The BECs carry out their mission within the parish, starting in their own neighborhood, in the barangay or village, in nearby communities. They go to the peripheries in the parish and reach out to those who are baptized but not evangelized, those who are nominal or seasonal Catholics and those who are alienated from the Church. They engage in dialogue with Christians from other denominations and those who belong to other religions.
Many BECs have not yet realized this vision of a renewed Church. The task of the clergy and the lay faithful during and beyond the Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities is forming and revitalizing BECs so that they truly become agents of communion, participation and mission. In this way, they will indeed become what Pope Francis calls “Communities of Missionary Disciples.” (Evangelii Gaudium).