(Note: This article was published in the 2009 Souvenir Program of the Parish on the occasion of the 379th Fiesta Celebration.)
The Book of Ecclesiastes says that “there is an appointed time for everything under the heavens.” Although it has been decreed since 1996 during the First Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly that here in the Archdiocese of Palo, the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) shall be the goal of all evangelization efforts, it was only ten years after during the January 2006 Ongoing Formation of the Clergy that the priests really decided as a body that the formation of BECs be its special thrust in all the parishes of the archdiocese.
Essentially, a BEC is a small caring group of families in the neighborhood that fosters lay leadership and partnership in the mission of evangelization, and in which the fullness of Christian discipleship is actualized. It is basic because it is small; it is Church in nucleus, the initial cell of the ecclesial structure; it is Church at the grassroots; it is Church being experienced at the basic level of everyday living. It is ecclesial because it continuously affirms its oneness with the local ecclesiastical authority; although regularly ministered to by lay leaders, it seeks the guidance and shepherding of the parish priest; its activities that address the life needs of the community complement and are in full harmony with the pastoral thrust of the local Church and of the parish. It is community because its members serve one another; its members come together to be nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist; they build hope and strength in one another; there is a strong sense of caring and sharing, of solidarity and mission. The main goal of BEC is the establishment of self-nourishing, self-sustaining and self-governing communities. The BEC set-up in the parish can have different levels: at the base we have the clustering of five to ten families in the neighborhood which we call “family grouping” ( FG ) ; five to ten FGs will make up a BEC; three to five BECs will make up a BEC cluster; and the parish is made up of several BECs or BEC clusters.
In Sts. Peter & Paul Parish, the formation of the BECs was facilitated by the reorganization and reactivation of the different chapels in the barangays, puroks and sitios within the parish. By October 2005 after pastoral assemblies were held, twenty four chapels were organized with their own set of chapel leaders. The chapels were then grouped into five clusters with its own cluster head (Camp Downes, Bantigue, Alta Vista, Malbasag-Nadongholan and Punta). During the Parish Pastoral Assembly last October 16, 29 and 30, 2005 the elected chapel leaders together with the chosen members of the Parish Pastoral Council took their oath office in the presence of the Archbishop Most Rev. Pedro Dean.
To start the process of the formation of the BECs, in early May 2006, the priests of the vicariate of Ormoc invited Sr. Erlinda Lanigao from the Diocese of Naval to share her experiences and to lend us materials on how to start the BEC. Right afterwards, some members of the different faith communities in the parish were invited to form the temporary BEC team. Among those who first responded were members of the CCRM, CFD, Neo Catechumenate, BCBP and some catechists. The group decided that the parish will start as a pilot area Revolver and Lawis in Bantigue. The Catholic Faith Defenders were given the task to do the Awareness Seminar in Revolver and the catechists went to Lawis. A seminar of six nights was conducted in May 2006 in Revolver by the CFD after which the people were grouped into family groupings. By June the following month, the same Awareness seminar was conducted in Lawis.
In June 2006, Sr. Betty Simbajon, DC, an experienced BEC organizer was appointed as the BEC Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Palo. The parish lost no time in inviting Sr. Betty to come to talk to the parish. In July 22, 2006 she gave a BEC Awareness Seminar to the parish. In attendance were the members of the Parish Pastoral Council, representatives from the faith communities and the chapel leaders. As a result of the seminar, it was decided that instead of just waiting for the pilot areas to become successful before embarking in other areas, the parish will go full swing with the implementation of the BEC in all the chapels in the parish. It was decided that every faith community will just form their own formation team and will be given a chapel where they will evangelize and form the BECs. The different clusters were also given a priest as in-charge of the cluster. The following was the assignment given to the faith communities in 2006:
Names of Chapels In charge
I. Cluster “Camp Downes”
Cluster Head: Noel S. Remollo
Priest-In-Charge: Fr. Ramon Fian Jr
1) Sts. Peter and Paul Chapel (Can-adieng) – DMI (Daughters of Mary Immaculate)
2) Sta. Cruz Chapel (NSV, Can-adieng) – FLA (Family & Life Apostolate)
3) Sta. Cruz Chapel (Camp Downes) – FLA
4) Sta. Cruz Chapel (Liberty, Camp Downes) – ALNP (Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon)
II. Cluster “Bantigue”
Cluster Head: Susan H. Magtolis
Priest-In-Charge: Fr. John Paul Pedrera
1) Sto. Niño Chapel (Brgy. Bantigue) – BCBP (Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and
2) San Roque Chapel (Revolver) – CFD (Catholic Faith Defenders)
3) Sr. San Roque Chapel (Sitio Lawis, Bantigue) – Catechists
4) Virgin of Fatima Chapel (Purok 5, Riles) – CCRM (Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement)
5) Nazareno Chapel (Purok 6, Maanahaw) – CCRM
6) Sr. San Roque Chapel (Purok 4, Sumangga) – CCRM
7) Holy Family Chapel (Purok 5, Sumangga) – CCRM
III. Cluster “Alta Vista”
Cluster Head: Betty Formentera
Priest-In-Charge: Fr. Chito Durana
1) Sr. San Roque Chapel (Alta Vista) – BCBP
2) St. Isidore Chapel (Patag) – BCBP later given to CCRM
3) San Isidro Chapel (Sitio Salvacion, Patag)
4) San Isidro Labrador Chapel (Sumangga) – Lay Ministers
5) ASPRAC-Sumangga – K of C/ Reflex
IV. Cluster “Punta
Cluster Head: Francisca A. Miro
Priest-In-Charge: Fr. Mansueto Sosing
1) Sr. San Roque Chapel (Alegria) – CFC (Couples for Christ)
2) St. Francis Xavier Chapel (Punta) – CFD
3) San Roque Chapel (Batuan) – CFC
4) Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel (D. F.Larrazabal) – CFC
V. Cluster “Malbasag”
Cluster Head: Lito Sanchez
Priest-In-Charge: Fr. Roy Villas
1) San Isidro Chapel (Malbasag, Zone II) – Neo Catechumenate
2) San Roque Chapel (Zone III, Malbasag) – Catechists
3) Virgen de Salvacion Chapel (zone IV Malbasag) – Neo Catechumenate
4) St. Ignatius of Loyola Chapel (District 29, Nadongholan) K of C/ Reflex group
5) San Isidro Labrador Chapel (Donghol) – Catechists
6) Holy Family Chapel (Mahayag) – CFC
The process used in the parish in the formation of the BEC was the following. First a BEC Awareness Seminar was conducted to all the members belonging to a chapel. At first, six nights were spent for this seminar. After about a year of conducting this seminar, it was reduced to three nights only with the last night spent for confession and the celebration of the Eucharist. Depending on the group which handled the formation, the survey of the households would either be done before the awareness seminar which also served as way of information campaign for the people to attend the seminar or it would be done after. After the awareness seminar, the families would now be grouped into different family groupings (FG) of five to ten (later reduced to eight) neighborhood families. They would then start their weekly FG prayer meetings. A guide was given to the different FGs which consisted of 30 weekly sessions. At the start, members of the faith community that handled the awareness seminar would sit and guide in the weekly FG meetings. (This became one of the problems among the formation teams since they had few members to follow-up the weekly prayer meetings of the FGs). After the 14th week, it was the time when the FGs would elect their own set of leaders as Parianon (priestly, FG leader), Propetanhon (prophetic, Asst. FG leader) and Harianon (kingly, in-charge of service and at the same time treasurer). This would be the time when the elected leaders would try to lead the weekly prayer meeting by themselves. When the different FGs under the chapel have reached the 24th weekly prayer meeting, the different FGs in the chapel would then elect their BEC leaders. In the parish, every chapel was considered as one BEC except that of Bantigue proper which had three BECs. Once they have finished the weekly modules, the members would undergo a Basic Orientation Seminar which was a deeper introduction into the way of life of the BEC. They were then encouraged to have a Fellowship gathering. Afterwards a Basic Bible Seminar would be given as the FG meetings would now be using the ASIPA method , that is, the 7-step method of Bible Sharing for their weekly prayer meeting.
As expected there was not a uniform growth of the BECs in the parish. Much of the success depended on the commitment and dedication of the formation team, the cluster leader and of the priest-in-charge. In its first year of implementation, it was Cluster Bantigue under Fr. John Paul Pedrera and its cluster head Susan Magtolis that was the first to have all the chapels organized. By September 2006 aside from Revolver and Lawis, four other chapels in Bantigue spearheaded by the CCRM were able to hold Awareness seminars and were able to start their FG weekly prayer meetings (Purok 4, Sumangga; Purok 6, Maanahaw; Purok 5, Sumangga and Purok 5, Riles). The last chapel to organize was the main chapel of Bantigue towards the end of 2006 with the BCBP as the lead group. Bantigue main chapel was able to form 16 FGs divided into 3 BECs. As a continuing support to the FGs formed, the BCBP team decided to have a weekly prayer meeting of all the members especially among the FG leaders every Monday evening. Basic Orientation Seminars were held in the different chapels of Bantigue in January 2007. Likewise Basic Bible Seminars were also conducted. In the main chapel of Bantigue, Bro. Fernan Presillas, a noted Bible apologist, gave a Lay Bible course in March 2009.
The chapels under cluster Malbasag were also able to organize themselves. With the persistent follow-up of their cluster head Bro. Lito Sanchez Awareness seminars and the formation of FGs were done in the chapels of Malbasag Zone 2 and 4 by the members of the Neo Catechumenate and Zone 3 by the Catechists. The Awareness seminar in Nadongholan chapel was handled by Bro. Apang from the Reflex group. After Fr. Roy Villas was transferred in April 2007, Fr. Randy Raagas took over as the priest-in-charge of Malbasag Cluster. There was a rapid growth of the formation of BEC during his tenure. Other sitio chapels were organized. These included Purok Rosal, Gumamela, Cantalib, Isla Verde I and II in Nadongholan; Donghol Compound and Sitio Santol in Donghol. Basic Bible seminars were personally given by Fr. Randy to almost all the chapels in Nadongholan and Malbasag. The youth were also gathered by him for recollections. In February 23, 2008 the different chapels gathered for their First BEC fiesta at the Nadongholan cockpit. This first BEC fiesta of the Malbasag-Nadongholan Cluster was attended by 581 delegates coming from the 9 chapels which compose the Malbasag Cluster (Malbasag; Zone 3; Zone 4; Nadongholan; Isla Verde 1; Isla Verde 2; Donghol; Santol, Donghol; Compound, Donghol). Because of the growth of the number of chapels in the Malbasag and Nadongholan it was decided last January 2009 that the cluster will be split into two with its own cluster head. Nadongholan cluster would also include the barangays of Donghol and Mahayag. Malbasag cluster aside from the three chapels under it would take charge in the expansion to the nearby city districts.
Camp Downes and Alta Vista Cluster
The formation of the BEC in Camp Downes cluster was rather slow. After several attempts Camp Downes Chapel was able to organize and have 10 FGs at present. Sitio Liberty despite some problems was able to form their FGs under the leadership of the Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon. Although Awareness seminar was done in Can-adieng chapel in 2006 its only this year that they were able to form FGs. Awareness seminars are at present being done in Sitio Lawis and del Carmen in Can-adieng. With regards to the Alta Vista Cluster, FGs have already been formed in Alta Vista chapel headed by the BCBP. Mention has to be made that in Alta Vista, members of the FGs have at present an income generating project in the form of a vegetable garden in the 5,000 square meter lot that has recently been donated to the parish for the purpose of constructing a church for Alta Vista. In Patag, the CCRM gave the Awareness seminar and had the people grouped into 16 FGs of which only 10 are active at present.
The Punta cluster which includes the barangays of Punta, Alegria, Batuan and Don Felipe Larrazabal, had a different approach to the formation of the BEC under Fr. Mannix Sosing. For whatever reason, the faith community assigned to them could not commit in forming the BECs there. They could not also rely on the other faith communities as they were already tied up in other chapels. What Fr. Sosing did was to organize the chapels in the different puroks of Punta and Alegria, since only the main barangay chapel had been organized, and had the leaders undergo formation on the functions of the WESTY (Worship, Education, Social Action, Temporalities and Youth). What he had in mind was that these chapel leaders themselves will be the ones who will help in the formation of the BEC. Ten purok chapels in Punta were organized (Gumamela, Dama de noche, Waling-waling, Bougainville, Santan, Ilang-ilang, Million, Rose, Daisy and Tinago) and three puroks in Alegria (Nangka/Sambag, Alegria Village and Purok Durian). After all the chapels have been organized, all the elected leaders of the chapels underwent a four-Saturday formation on January 27, February 3, 10 & 17, 2007. When Fr. Randy Raagas took over the cluster in April 2007 there was already a functional organization in all the chapels of the cluster Punta. With the aid of the chapel leaders Fr. Randy started with the BEC Awareness Seminar in all the sitio chapels of Punta which led to the formation of Family Groupings (FGs). This activity went on from the late 2007 up to 2008. One after the other the different chapels were able to organize their own FGs and started their weekly prayer meetings. As each FGs within a chapel would at least reach their 24th weekly meeting, a Basic Bible Seminar (BBS) would follow so that the weekly prayer meetings of the FGs would now follow the seven-step Bible Sharing method. The BBS came to be handled by the Catholic Faith Defenders with Bro. Paeng Fernandez, Bro. Jessel Mosquera and company. When Fr. Randy left the parish in May 2008 all the chapels in cluster Punta had already organized FGs except that of Batuan and Don Felipe Larrazabal. Aside from the usual weekly prayer meetings of the FGs, fellowship gatherings and excursions were made by the Punta cluster. In April 12, 2008 the cluster had a pilgrimage to the Our Lady Queen of Peace Hermitage in Natubgan, Kananga, Leyte. Another pilgrimage was also done in January 3, 2009 to all the pilgrim churches of the Archdiocese of Palo in connection with the Silver Jubilee celebration of Palo as an archdiocese.
First Parish BEC Assembly
Just more than a year since the Basic Ecclesial Communities were established in the parish, the First Parish BEC Assembly was called last November 24-25, 2007 at the SPC Gym. The participants were the delegates from the 5 BEC clusters of the parish and the members of the Parish Pastoral Council and prospective members of the Parish Finance Council. Since the two year term of the members of the Parish Pastoral Council just ended, the opportunity was taken to have the seminar of the new members of the PPC to coincide with the Assembly. It was also decided that a Parish Finance Council be established. At the culmination of the assembly, the members of the Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Council and the Chapel Pastoral Councils were sworn into office. There were now 42 Chapel Pastoral Councils that have been organized from the 24 that were formed two years ago.
Maintenance, Growth and Expansion of the BEC
It has been three years already since BEC started in the parish. Like any church program that is being introduced it has its ups and downs. There is still a long way to go for the BEC to really become a new way of life for the parishioners. However, there are lots of signs of growth that can be seen now in the parish. For example the yearly Christmas Festival which has now become a BEC gathering together with the faith communities in the parish have tremendously increased in terms of attendance since there is now a greater sense of belonging among the members. It is the same story also with regards to the Parish Night at the Superdome at the start of the novena mass for the fiesta of the parish. Stories of conversions, of neighbors now caring for one another abound.
Two main concerns are being faced now. One is the maintenance of the existing BECs that have been formed and the other is the formation of BECs in areas that have not yet started. After the initial enthusiasm, some FGs have slowly ceased to have their weekly prayer meetings. For example, a year ago there were 41 FGs in cluster Bantigue, now only 27 are active. Some FGs have been dissolved, like in Purok Gumamela in Punta because they have been evicted from their places of residence. In Don Felipe Larrazabal, that is also one of the reasons why they are hesitating to start the BEC because they are facing an eminent eviction. There is also the need to reach out especially to the male members in the community. At present most of the active members are the women. Campaigns have to be done to attract the men to actively join in the BEC. At present there are 174 active FGs in the parish: Bantigue cluster – 27, Camp Downes – 14, Malbasag -26, Alta Vista – 17, Nadongholan- 37, Punta -52 and Dist. 17 – 1 .
The other concern that the parish is trying to face is the formation of the BECs in the city districts which have been left out. Almost all the outlying barangays of the parish have already been able to organize the FGs but not in the city districts. With their experience, we are now looking up to the BEC leaders to extend their services to the city districts. At present Punta cluster is helping organize Districts 1 to 4, 17 and 23. Malbasag Cluster likewise is spearheading the BEC formation of District 25. With the transfer also of the parochial vicars the clusters have at present different priest-in-charge: Bantigue cluster – Fr. Edward Tantuico, Camp Downes – Fr. Romel Apurillo, Malbasag – Fr. Raymund Mazo, Alta Vista – Fr. Erby Davy Lajara, Nadongholan- Fr. Armando Dagsa and Punta – Msgr. Bernie Pantin.
There is still so much to do in terms of forming the Basic Ecclesial Communities in the parish so that the parishioners can live out their vocation as people of God that truly participates in Christ’s prophetic, priestly and kingly mission; where they have a strong sense of belonging and responsibility for one another. We rest consoled in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero when he wrote: “We simply plant seeds that will one day grow. Nothing we do is complete. This enables us to do something and do it well. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. We may never see the end results. We are workers, not master builders, servant leaders, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”