Development of BECs in Northern Luzon (Mgr. Perez)

(Presentation of Mgr. Gerry Cruz during the Northern Luzon BEC Exchange, Feb. 29, 2012)

My task this morning is to trace the history of the development of BECs in Northern Luzon. With your kind permission may I just paint in bold strokes the colorful history of our attempts to build BECs in Northern Luzon. My sketch will be simple, even perhaps simplistic, concerned with the “big picture” rather with details.

I am sure there were many attempts by individual pastors and even dioceses to promote a more participatory and co-responsible Church, a Church of Communion & Solidarity inspired no less by the teachings of Vatican II.  The promotion of Basic Christian Communities with its community organizing component was very much alive during the Marcos years not only in Mindanao but also in some parts of Northern Luzon. It has produced its own heroes and martyrs.  To them we owe a debt of gratitude for laying the grounds for a region wide pastoral collaboration.

Having said that, may I just begin my historical sketch with the holding of a Northern Luzon Pastoral Forum since we are meeting today as a Northern Luzon Church. I shall be quoting verbatim from the documents of the Northern Luzon Pastoral Forum.

As early as 1988, the Bishops of Northern Luzon, through their periodic meetings have been laying the grounds for a possible Northern Luzon Pastoral gathering.  Discerning the enormous pastoral challenges that confront them they realized that the realities and concerns went beyond the confines of their individual dioceses. And therefore, the appropriate pastoral response can only be done in solidarity.  This undeniable fact was in the minds of the bishops when they conceived the idea of coming and working together as the Church of Northern Luzon. The idea gained more support and encouragement with the convocation of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in Manila in 1991.

Taking their cue from PCP II, the Northern Luzon Bishops finally decided to hold the pastoral conference in 1995 on the occasion of the 4ooth anniversary of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia. However, it was postponed to 1996 since not all the dioceses would have completed their diocesan level pastoral assemblies and  synods. Preparing the members of the dioceses for a region-wide pastoral consultation was necessary for a more fruitful and effective participation.

The first Northern Luzon Pastoral Forum (NLPF –I) was held on September 23-27 1996 at San Pablo Seminary, Baguio City. The Theme was “Becoming Church of Northern Luzon in the light of PCP II”  with the following objectives:  1) to discern our present situation as Church in Northern Luzon 2) To envision a new way of being Church of Northern Luzon and 3)to set up common pastoral directions and possible collaborative pastoral strategies. NLPF I articulated the renewed Vision of the Church as a response to the pastoral situation obtaining in Northern Luzon.

This vision is characterized as a Church of Communion in the face of individualism, a Church of co-responsibility and participation in the face of a culture of silence and dependency, powerlessness and voicelessness and as a Church of the Poor in the face of massive and dehumanizing poverty.  These characteristics of the vision are summarized as a Church of Solidarity.

The vision of a Church of Solidarity can be fully concretized in the BECs.  Thus, the NLPF1 adopted the building of BECS as its pastoral thrust. “We believe that the
vision of a new way of being Church is concretely expressed in the Basic
Ecclesial Community (BEC) that grassroot small community of believers who
gather to pray, to hear and share the Word of God, discerning in the light of
faith and acting together impelled by faith and love through the promptings of
the Spirit, moving us to transform this world.  This is why we in Northern Luzon are convinced that building BECs must be our pastoral thrust.”

During the NLPF I, the late Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ
described BECs as:

a)  A community of believers – what brings people as a community is their faith – not because of their ideology.

b) Which meets regularly

c) Usually under lay leadership

d)   To express their faith in common worship

e)  To discern in faith on their life’s problems and opportunities

f)  To act collectively in faith on those same problems and opportunities.  They do not simply talk and pray about their problems but they do something about it

g) In community, as community.

In short, a BEC is a community of believers that tries to integrate life and faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a participatory way.

To facilitate the building of BECs as a pastoral thrust, the NLPF I recommended that a Northern Luzon Desk for BECs be established as a regional venue for sharing of experiences and efforts on BEC building, for preparing modules of formation and training of BEC trainors according to the Asian Integral Pastoral Approach (ASIPA) as endorsed by the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) The Northern Luzon BEC desk serves also as the information and communitication center for BEC in the region.  It is further recommended that a Northern
Luzon Pastoral Leadership Training Center be set up for the training of
trainors charged with the formation of renewed pastoral leaders, oriented to
the vision and thrust of the Northern Luzon Church. With these recommendations
the NL BEC-LLT was established as a Commission.

In response to the surfaced needs of the dioceses, the NL BEC-LLT, has developed a process and structure of sharing and a formation program in order to facilitate the realization of the pastoral thrust of building BECs in Northern Luzon.

1.  Structures of sharing:

  1. The NL BEC-LLT secretariat. The secretariat coordinates the
    regional and sub-regional BEC exchanges. These exchanges provide a venue of sharing experiences and efforts on BEC building.  It also assists the
    diocesan BEC animators in their formational and training needs.  The NL BEC-LLT Secretariat likewise prepares formation and training modules and serves as the communication center for BEC.
  2. The NL BEC-LLT Steering Committee.The NL BEC-LLT steering committee
    is composed of sub-regional BEC coordinators/directors and the
    secretariat.  It is tasked to:

Facilitate the regular Regional BEC exchange

Coordinate formational and training activities

provide for the proper direction of BEC implementation
The steering committee also meets regularly (quarterly, after the regional BEC exchange) to evaluate the previous Exchange and plan for the next Exchange.

C. REGIONAL EXCHANGES

Diocesan BEC Coordinators, leaders/staffs meet quarterly for the Regional BEC Exchange.  This regional exchange is an assembly wherein sharing of experiences related to the BEC efforts are made.  Sharing of and listening to experiences has
affirmed and corrected BEC building efforts undergone by the different dioceses.  This process promotes community building.  The NL BEC-LLT maintains its intention to enhance and develop closer relationships among BEC animators through fellowship and community building activities.  It also provides a venue of discovering the WHY, WHAT, and HOW of BEC building.

Difficulties and problems related to the BEC building are also brought out in the Regional BEC Exchange.  The assembly discerns these difficulties and problems in order to come up with appropriate responses.

D. SUB-REGIONAL EXCHANGES

The Northern Luzon region is clustered into four (4) sub-regions namely, Pangasinan, Cagayan Valley, Cordillera and Ilocos.  These sub-regional groupings aim at establishing a network among the neighboring dioceses which have more or less the same cultural background and situation.  These four BEC sub-regions
meet quarterly for sharing of experiences and resources such as formation and
training materials.  It also provides the dioceses the opportunity to discover, understand and respect the unique culture and situation of each diocese as the basis or framework of BEC fostering.

Through the years, the NL BEC-LLT has developed formation and training modules based on the shared experiences, culture and situation of each diocese.
Furthermore, dioceses have discovered and have gradually developed the
more appropriate and more focused phases and concrete steps of BEC building.  At present, most dioceses have their own BEC Coordinators.

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD must be talking about our BEC experiences when he identified some problems and concerns that have emerged in the course of promoting and forming BECs.

Problems and Concerns

1.  Sustainability.

Many BECs that have been formed could not be sustained, especially when the parish priests who initiated them were transferred and those who took their place were not supportive. This was also the case, when external pastoral agents who helped form BECs were gone. Some BECs have a ningas cogon mentality. The members were very enthusiastic at the start but they lost interest after a while.

2. Attendance and participation.

There are BECs, where only a few actively participate in the ongoing activities (e.g. the weekly bible-service and bible-sharing). Most of those who attend are women. The men and young people are seldom seen. Attendance and participation may increase during community masses and during fiesta, Christmas and Holy Week.

3. Leadership.

Some BECs have leaders who are incompetent and lacking in commitment. Others have leaders who are very authoritarian and dictatorial. Some are acting like “pari-pari” or little-priests, falling into a new form of clericalism of lay leaders. The leaders lack team-work. Many don’t go out of their way to reach out to the members and to encourage them. Others resort to policies and sanctions to assert their authority.

4. Relations with Lay Organizations, Movements and Associations (LOMAS).

In many cases the relationship between BECs and lay organizations, movements and associations (LOMAs) tend to be problematic. Some members of LOMAs regard BECs as just another organization and because of this there is no need to participate in the BECs since they already belong to an organization. Others claim that their organizations can be considered as BECs — so again there is no need to be members of the BECs in their neighborhood or village. In some cases, members of BECs who become members of LOMAs stop participating in their BECs. Consequently, a spirit of antagonism and competition prevails between BECs and LOMAs.

5. Responding to Social Concerns and Issues.

Many BECs remain inward-looking communities that lack social concern. Their activities revolve around bible-sharing and liturgical celebrations. They do not respond to social problems and issues that they face – e.g. poverty, hunger, criminality, injustice, armed conflict, the destruction of the environment, etc. These BECs feel helpless in the midst of poverty and armed conflict. They are either incapable of addressing these concerns or they think that BECs should only focus on spiritual concerns.

6. Understanding the vision and nature of BECs.

Many practitioners and members of BECs do not have an adequate understanding of the vision and nature of BECs. There are many who associate BECs exclusively with the small group or cell, composed of six to ten members, who gather weekly to reflect on the word of God.  The BEC becomes just an activity (bible-reflection) or that small exclusive group. With this understanding of BECs, any small group can be considered as BECs – the small cells in the neighborhood, inside the classrooms, within the seminary, a small prayer group (SPG) or the CFC household unit. The focus is on the smallness, rather than community dynamics and ecclesiality.

 

Most of these problems and concerns are interrelated. The problems of sustainability and poor participation in BECs may be the result of problematic leadership, the use of coercive policies and sanctions, problematic relationship with LOMAs, failure to respond to social concerns and inadequate understanding of the vision and nature of BECs.
Lessons learned from our BEC experiences:

1.  The BEC needs to be contextualized.  It has to be anchored on the life situation of the people. Vatican II puts beautifully:  “the joys and hopes, the pains and anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor … are the joys and hopes, the pains and anxieties of the followers of Christ.  Hence, the Church cannot live in splendid isolation oblivious of what is happening around her. “To proclaim The Good News of Jesus is to do so in the total context of Northern Luzon, its peoples and cultures.” (NLPF I) Thus the need for a Christian social analysis.

2.  The NLPF Vision of a Church of Communion, Participation, Co-responsibility and of the Poor needs to be clearly understood by all: from the Bishop, priests, lay collaborators and the parishioners at large.  Thus the need for leveling –off and awareness raising.

3.  The Vision needs to be translated into a comprehensive pastoral program. The NL BEC-LLT has developed as a fruit of our experiences a pastoral framework, clearly identifying the different stages of Introducing, sustaining, deepening and
mobilizing BECs, complete with strategies and accompanying formation sessions
every step of the way.

4.  The BEC needs to become a way of life for the whole parish.
The BEC is not just another organization or a pastoral program.  We need to learn new ways of behaving, relating to another, learning (in a participatory way) even praying.

5.  The BEC needs to be missionary and prophetic.  It does not only address the needs and concerns within the community but takes into consideration the wider context of the world.
There are bigger and wider issues that need to be addressed.  Hence. the need for networking and linkages with other BECs, parishes, NGOs, other faiths and denominations.

6. The New way of being Church needs a new way of leading.
We the leaders need a lot of dying to self to animate and guide the people’s
journey to fullness of life. We need to learn the way of servant-leadership.

 

Conclusion:

We have come a long way in vigorously promoting BECs as a new way of being Church.  What is needed is a new awareness that we are a Church of Solidarity that responds concretely to the problems and concerns of our people as we struggle to integrate faith and life. We, the lay leaders, priests and bishops need to exercise a new way of leadership so that the gifts and charisms that the Holy Spirit has liberally showered our people with, will be tapped, developed and coordinated for the building up of the Body of Christ. We place our hopes and dreams at Mary’s feet
who was in midst of the apostles at Pentecost so that with her intercession our
pastoral efforts we will be blessed with success by her Son Jesus who said that
“unless He builds the house, in vain do workers labor.”