(This is a paper delivered on October 25, 2012 during the National Institute of Seminary Formators organized by the CBCP Commission on Seminaries and held in Holy Family Retreat House, Cebu City)
Basic Ecclesial Communities and Seminary Formation
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, SThD
Since the mid-1970s, some seminaries and religious centers of formation have included Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) as integral part of priestly formation. In 1991, the Second Plenary Council (PCP II) came up with two decrees that made BECs part of seminary formation. The first is found under the heading: Seminary Formation article 77 #2:
“Without detriment to spiritual, theological and pastoral formation, practical and experiential
pastoral training must be part of the seminary curriculum. Hence, opportunities must be provided for seminarians to work and live in depressed areas and to experience the life and activities of different movements in the Church, especially basic ecclesial communities:”
The other decree is found under the heading: Basic Ecclesial Communities, art 110#2:
“This official statement of the CBCP shall be, among other things, for proper orienting of priests and seminarians. Training for work with BECs shall be made part of seminary formation.”
Why should it be part of the formation for those preparing for the priestly ministry? How can this be integrated in seminary formation? These are the questions that I would like to address in this talk.
The Updated Philippine Program for Priestly Formation (UPPPF) provide some answers to how BECs can be integrated in seminary formation – whether in human formation, spiritual formation, theological formation and pastoral formation. But the reason why it should be part of
seminary formation needs to be clarified further. What are we really preparing future ordained ministers for?
The answers to these questions depend on the theology and vision of the ordained ministry. The vision and understanding of the ordained ministry also depends on our ecclesiology – ourvision of the Church.
The Vision of a Renewed Church
On October 11, 1962 the Second Vatican Council formally opened. Pope John XXIII and the council fathers wanted to renew the Church in response to the changes that have taken place in the world. The Council came up with a vision of a renewed Church which is found primarily in Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and also in Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). Other conciliar documents focused on particular aspects of the Church that needs to be renewed: Christus Dominus (the ministry of bishops), Presbyterorum Ordinis (the ministerial priesthood), Apostolicum Actuasitatem (apostolate of the laity), Perfecta Caritatis (renewal of religious and consecrated life), Ad Gentes (the missionary activity of the Church), Dei Verbum (the Word of God and Divine Revelation), Sacrosanctum Concilium (liturgical renewal), Unitatis Redintegratio (Ecumenism), Nostra Aetate (Relation with non-Christian religions), etc. The unifying theme of all the documents is renewal. Vatican II was a council aimed at renewing or reforming the Church.
The vision of the Church that unifies all the documents is found in Lumen Gentium: the Church as Communion and as the People of God that, filled with the Holy Spirit, continues Christ’s prophetic, priestly and kingly/servant mission.
As a communion that is based on the Holy Trinity, the Church is not only an institution but must be seen and experienced as a community whose members – clergy and laity – are united to one another other and actively participate in the life and mission of the Church.
The Church’s mission is not limited to the spiritual/religious sphere. The Church must be involved in the social, economic, political, and cultural spheres. The Church is called to collaborate with other religions, civil society and states to bring about justice, peace, freedom and development in human society. This ecclesiogical vision is the basis for the understanding of the life and ministry of the ordained and the apostolate of the laity.
The reception and implementation phase followed after the council. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCPII) in 1991 echoed the Vatican II vision of a renewed Church and further developed it:
Community of disciples,
living in communion and participating in the mission of Christ
as a prophetic, priestly and kingly people
and as the Church of the Poor.
According to PCP II, this vision can be expressed in BECs. (PCP II no. 137-140). BECs are the means by which ordinary lay-faithful can experience the Church as a community of disciples, where they can live in communion in their neighborhood and local communities, where they can be empowered to actively participate in the prophetic, priestly and servant mission of the Church and become truly part of the Church of the Poor.
PCP II recognizes BECs as a “significant expression of ecclesial renewal” and considers the formation of BECs as a “pastoral priority.” (PCP II, 140). Thus, PCP II decreed: “Basic Ecclesial Communities under various names & forms – BCCs, small Christian communities, covenant communities – must be vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation in both urban & rural areas.” (art 109).
The Ordained Ministry
The understanding of the life and ministry of the clergy is based on the vision of a renewed Church in Vatican II and PCP II. From this ecclesiological perspective, the hierarchical ministry is at the service of the community of God’s people:
- A ministry of Pastoral Leadership and Communion (koinoia)
- A ministry of the Word/Prophetic Ministry (kerygma, marturia)
- Sacerdotal/Liturgical Ministry (litourgia)
- Social Action/Service Ministry (diakonia)
PCP II regards the formation of genuine Christian communities (including BECs) as part of the pastoral ministry:
“Hence, we can appropriately call ordained ministers as servant-leaders of the community. They are in charge of the community. They are to build up the Christian community. Their task extends by right also to the formation of a genuine Christian community.” (PCP II, 518)
PCP II spells out the nature of the Christian Community over which the priest presides:
- A priestly, worshipping, eucharistic community (PCP II no. 522-524)
- A prophetic, witnessing & evangelizing community (PCP II no. 525-526)
- A ministerial servant community (PCP II no. 528-529)
The role of the priest is to form, lead and enable the Christian community to actively
participate in the prophetic, priestly and kingly/servant mission and to be engaged in renewed integral evangelization – renewed catechesis, renewed worship and renewed social apostolate. The Christian community is understood primarily as the parish -as part of the particular Church – and by implication the BECs within it since the parish is to be built up as a network of small
Christian communities or BECs (PCP II art 2#1).
Since the clergy has a vital role in the formation and overseeing of BECs which is the pastoral thrust of the Church in the Philippines, seminary formation must be geared towards preparing seminarians to exercise pastoral leadership (good shepherding) over the Christian community/BECs that are prophetic/ witnessing communities, priestly/worshipping communities and kingly/serving communities
Means of Integrating BEC in Seminary Formation
How can BECs be integrated in seminary formation? What follows are the best practices – some of
which are already being adopted by many seminaries.
- BEC Orientation
- Living the BEC culture/structure within the seminary
- Initial BEC Exposure/Immersion
- Integrating BEC in seminary courses
- Active involvement in the formation of BECs and learning pastoral skills needed
to form and minister to BECs
- Enabling the BECs to help form future ministers and good shepherds.
A series of talks or seminars that provide basic orientation and information are to be given to seminarians. They get an overview of BECs. They learn the PCP II vision of a renewed Church. They become aware of the BEC pastoral thrust. They get to know the BEC culture – BEC as a way of life.
The Seven Pillars of BEC culture (cf appendix for detail)
- Awareness as renewed Christians (metanoia)
- Communion (koinonia)
- Word of God (kerygma, catechesis)
- Prayer and the Eucharist (leitorgia)
- Social Action (diakonia)
- Option for the Poor
- Participative Membership and Servant-Leadership
Living the BEC Culture and Structure in the Seminary
There are several sections in the UPPPF which promote the living of the BEC culture and
structure in the seminary.
“In view of the vision of the Philippine Church as Community of Disciples of Christ where communion with Christ and among believers belongs to its essence, community life in the seminary needs to be an experience of becoming church. Thus seminary formation includes formation in and of community.” UPPPF 175
“The community can play a role in a seminarian’s growth in identity by being a healthy source of appreciation and love. To enable the community to play this formative role, it can be structured into small groups similar to Basic Ecclesial Communities to facilitate peer counseling, prayer meetings, fraternal correction and sharing sessions under the guidance of a seminary administrator.” UPPPF 179
“To promote communion, liturgical celebrations in small groups are to be held especially where the BEC structure is observed in the seminary. Faith sharing in these small groups, especially with the participation of members of the seminary faculty, can help seminarians develop the art of listening and discerning.” UPPF 85
“Maximize the role of sub-communities or BECs within the seminary structure for spiritual formation.” UPPPF no. 87
The BEC culture can indeed be experienced in the seminary. A large seminary can be structured into cells or small formation communities. They experience community life and learn to live in fraternal communion. They come together to pray and to share the Word of God. They help each other in the academics – group study, tutorial. They learn to help one another and to work as a team in their respective apostolate. This will be helpful when they become priests. This will lessen individualism and promote a spirit of communion and teamwork among priests as they exercise their ministry.
Initial BEC Exposure/Immersion
It is not enough that seminarians appropriate the BEC culture and structure within the seminary. They must also spend time in BECs. By doing so, they get to know and experience life in BECs. They join and observe the life and activities of the BECs. They become close to the leaders and members of the community. They see the actual situation of the BECs – the strengths and weaknesses. This could take a few days (exposure) or a few weeks or months (immersion). The exposure can be done on weekends during the school year. Immersion can also be done during summer vacation.
Exposure and immersion does not require the seminarians to actually contribute to the formation of BECs. They are there to experience, observe and to learn. It is important that after the exposure or immersion, the seminarians come together with their pastoral director to share their experiences and to process this. If it is possible, the CPE(Clinical Pastoral Education) method of processing (usually used in hospital setting) can be adapted to BEC exposure/immersion. In doing so, the human formation can be integrated.
Integrating BEC in seminary courses
It is important that the seminary courses are pastorally-oriented. These should be geared towards the formation of the Christian community (including BECs). There are several sections in the UPPPF which mention various possibilities of integrating BECs in seminary courses.
“Through these courses in Scripture, students are initiated in biblical criticism, a synthetic understanding of the message of Scriptures, and a taste of exegesis. This scientific training is urgently needed especially in forming BECs based on the Word of God. Filipino Catholics are also hungry for the Word of God can profit from sound biblical interpretation provided by their pastors.” UPPPF 111
“In the Philippines, liturgical courses can include guides to preparing with Christian communities and BEC’s appropriate and meaningful liturgies, sacramental instruction and services of the Word.” UPPPF 122
“Pastoral Leadership courses deal with the routines of ministerial life. Management of various aspects of parish life and skills for effective leadership often comprise the bulk of these courses. In the Philippines, it is suggested that leadership for justice and peace be introduced in order to help purify the seminarians’ commitment to the justice ministry of the Church. The management of parish and personal finances is also an urgent need as the Church in the Philippines aims at transparency. Training in working with teams in so-called team ministries and community organizing are priority concerns. Ministering to the youth and families, training in dialogue and organizing ecological ministries can be offered as courses.” UPPF 128
The following are other possible ways of integrating BECs in seminary courses:
- Sacred Scriptures (Biblical Hermeneutics in BEC bible/gospel sharing)
- Christology (proclaiming Jesus in the context of BECs – a part of evangelization & catechesis)
- Trinity (the Trinitarian Communion as source and model of Ecclesial Communion and BECs)
- Ecclesiology (the vision of th renewed Church in Vatican II and PCP II, its realization in the BECs – a new way of being Church
- Missiology (evangelization and the formation of the local Church/Christian community (BECs), building up of BECs as part of the missionary process)
- Ministry and Orders (exercising ministry vis-à-vis the Christian community,
formation of BECs as integral part of pastoral ministry)
- Pastoral Sociology (research & discussion on the dynamics of society, communities and small group social-cultural analysis, urbanization and implication for formation of
- Pastoral Leadership and Management
(leadership and management vis-à-vis the parish/BECs, overcoming the dark
side of leadership, servant leadership, collegial-participative leadership, strategic/pastoral planning, management of human and financial resources, effective systems of control/monitoring and evaluation)
- Moral Theology (moral issues in the context of BECs – family & life, environment, peace & justice, etc.)
- Pastoral Liturgy (liturgical celebrations in the parish and the BECs)
As part of the courserequirements, the seminarians can be asked to develop seminar-modules that can be used in BEC formation which they can test out in the BECs where they are assigned.
Active Participation of Seminarians in BEC formation and learning Pastoral Skills
The UPPPF emphasizes the need for seminarians to be actively involved in the parish and the BECs as part of their pastoral formation.
“The parish is a privileged setting for the ministry of shepherding. Seminarians should be given ample time to serve parish communities in their various needs, especially in community building and organization. Particular mention is to be made of Basic Ecclesial Communities. Where BECs already exist, seminarians are to be encouraged to participate actively. They need to learn from experience the inner workings and dynamism of this “pastoral priority…a significant expression of ecclesial renewal” UPPPF 158
“Through involvement in different forms of ministry of the Word such as catechetical instruction, bible study or sharing groups, bible services, bible institutes, preparing homily guides and the like, seminarians are nourished by the word of God as they witness how that word becomes the life of Christian communities. Likewise, seminarians are able to journey with the people in their hunger for the Word. They learn to collaborate with lay leaders engaged in the ministry of the Word in parishes and BECs.” UPPPF 153
Most of the pastoral skills can only be learned outside the classroom. The seminarians should learn to integrate and relate with the people in the BECs. They should learn to work or collaborate with lay pastoral workers and lay leaders. They should learn to conduct seminars (evangelization, basic bible seminary, Christology, Ecclesiology, BEC orientation, youth fellowship, leadership seminars, etc.), as well as retreats and recollections for BECs. They should develop leadership and management skills (facilitating, planning, evaluation, etc). As they do so, they apply what they have learned in the classroom.
Thus, the seminarians can help in forming and strengthening the BECs. They can assist the parish BEC animation/formation teams. They can help in the renewed evangelization of BECs. They can help in the ongoing catechesis of children, youth and adults in BECs. They can help in the formation and training of BEC formators and leaders. They can act as resource persons in the parish/BECs. They can do this when they are assigned to work with BECs during weekends, summer vacations and the pastoral immersion year.
The spiritual/pastoral formation year is the privileged period where seminarians are immersed in the life of the parish and BECs. They develop their pastoral skills
They apply what they have learned from their academics. They learn to pray and reflect in the midst of their pastoral involvement. They learn to work as a team among themselves and with lay pastoral workers.
The formation of seminarians vis-à-vis BECs should be done in a gradated manner. Living the BEC culture may already be introduced as early as the college level
During the early stages of formation, exposure to BECs should be given emphasis without expecting the seminarians to be actively involved in the formation of BEC. The higher the stage of formation – the more active they should be in the formation of BECs.
Involvement of BECs in the formation of seminarians
The UPPPF assumes that the formation of seminarians is not just the task of seminary formators. The BECs themselves have a role to play as formators.
“By giving periodic feedback, concerned laypeople in BECs or parishes can challenge seminarians to study well so that they can think more coherently, communicate more sensibly and act more decisively.” UPPF 136
“Laypeople and religious, particularly those who exercise leadership roles in the parishes, BECs and renewal movements, should also help mold seminarians to become the pastors that the Church in the Philippines needs. The purity of their commitment to Christ and the Church cannot fail to edify seminarians.” UPPPF 167
The members and leaders of the BECs can help form seminarians to become committed, compassionate and competent ministers and servant-leaders. The seminarians learn to become close to the lay-faithful in the BECs, listen to them, understand their situation, respect their dignity, recognize their gifts and collaborate with them in carrying out the Church’s mission.
In the BECs, the seminarians imbibe and learn the knowledge, attitude and skills necessary for their future ministry. The BECs can also provide feedbacks necessary for the evaluation and assessment of seminarians. The members of the BECs can have a deeper knowledge about the character, competence and commitment of the seminarians whom they encounter in a natural setting – far from the vigilant eyes of the seminary formators. They can sense whether the seminarians will turn out to be good priests and good shepherds. They know whether they are capable of living a celibate life and simple life-style. They can be consulted about the suitability of seminarians for moving to the next stage of formation and for ordination. The endorsement of the BECs can be included in the final evaluation and be part of the rite of ordination.
According to John Paul II, the BECs “are signs of vitality in the Church … a cause of great hope for the Church, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a civilization of love.” (RM 51).
The renewal of the Church that was initiated by Vatican II fifty years ago can become a reality through the BECs which are considered as a new way of being Church. The Vatican II and PCP II
vision of a renewed Church can indeed by fulfilled when BECs emerge and grow in every diocese, in every neighborhood and villages in every parish. Through the BECs the lay-faithful actively participate in the life and mission of the Church.
The renewal of the Church willsucceed with a renewed clergy. Just as a new way of being Church requires a new way of being priests. A new way of being priests requires a new way of seminary formation – a formation that lives the culture of a new way of being Church, a formation that prepares the seminarians to minister and exercise pastoral leadership to parishes that are communion of communities/BECs – prophetic, priestly and servant communities.