Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), also called Basic Christian Communities, Small Christian Communities. Some contend that the movement has its origin and inspiration from Liberation Theology in Latin America. However, many would regard the emergence of BECs as part of the concrete realization of the communitarian model of the Church (as Communion and as People of God) promoted by the Second Vatican Council. The communities are considered as a new way of “being the Church”— the Church at the grassroots, in the neighborhood and villages. The earliest communities emerged in Brazil and in the Philippines in the late 1960s and later spread to Africa, Asia and in recent times in Australia and North America.
During the early years of their existence, some BECs, especially in Latin America, were suspected of being influenced by Marxism due to their involvement in social and political concerns and their identification with liberation theology. However, that is not completely true. The BECs were not meant to reject or supplant the existing church structures but to make it possible for ordinary Catholics or lay-faithful to experience the Church as a community and to actively participate in the life and mission of the Church. The vision of a renewed Church that Vatican II spelt out in the conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes was to be realized in the BECs.
In the BECs, the members are called to live in communion with the Triune God, with one another, with their pastors. They actively participate in Christ’s prophetic mission by listening to the Word of God, proclaiming it and giving witness to it. They are called to announce the message of total salvation, peace and justice. They are to denounce the evil and all its manifestation in society – the idolatry of wealth and power, violence, injustices, the culture of death.
The ordinary faithful are enabled to exercise the common priesthood by actively participating in the liturgical celebrations. They participate in Christ’s kingly mission by their loving service to others especially the poor and the needy, their work for justice and peace for social transformation. Thus, in many parts of the world, BECs are referred to as prophetic (evangelizing), priestly (worshipping) and kingly (serving) communities echoing Vatican II’s vision of the Church as People of God.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed that “BECs are centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach. They are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, a solid starting point for a new society based on a “civilization of love.” BECs decentralize and organize the parish community to which they remain united. They take root among the less privileged. They become a leaven of Christian life, care for the poor,and commitment to the transformation of society… They are a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel – a source of new ministries. They are a true expression of communion and a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are a cause for great hope for the life of the Church.” (RM 51).
The BECs through the years have been accepted in the mainstream of the Catholic Church. Besides the Conferences of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) have endorsed the promotion of BECs all over Asia. So also have the Bishops Conferences in Africa promoted the BECs which they refer to as Small Christian Communities.
In the Philippines, the formation of BECs have been adopted as the pastoral priority of the Church throughout the country. In 1991, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines decreed: “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 urban and rural area” (PCP II article 110). The council directed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to “issue an official statement on BECs, on their nature and functions as recognized by the Church, making it clear that they are not simply another organization. This official statement of the CBCP shall be, among others things, for the proper orienting of priests and seminarians. Training for work with BECs shall be made part of seminary formation.” In 2007, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) established the Episcopal Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities with the task of assisting the dioceses in the promotion and formation of BECs.