Some Missiological Perspectives to the Experiences of
Basic Ecclesial Communities in the
his pastoral visit to the
John Paul II’s intergration of Christ, Church and Mission brings to the fore the following missiological principles: first, the primacy and centrality of the mission of Christ; second, the focus on how this very mission of Christ precedes and shapes the raison d’ etre and nature of being Church; and third, the necessity of a missiological perspective to the theological reflections on our faith-experiences.
paper aims to highlight precisely this missiological
perspective stressed by John Paul II. It
tries to apply this
framework to the concrete experiences of becoming the Church at
the very grassroots, the promotion of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the
In particular, Evangelization as the main mission and identity of the Church serves as the underlying point of consideration. Comprehending what Evangelization is all about, its various components and stages provides the key that unlocks the missiological dimensions of Basic Filipino Ecclesial Communities.
II. Evangelization as Faith-Experience
There are crucial questions that BECs have to ask themselves apropos of Evangelization as faith-experience. First of all, have the BECs experienced deep conversion in Christ? Have they been evangelized? In what way? At the same time, are the BECs sustained in being evangelized, in their experience of discipleship in and through Jesus? Again, are the means and processes effective enough to keep them going? And last, have the BECs been evangelizing the bigger communities and local churches? How is this evangelizing thrust achieved?
The experience of conversion in BECs
A look into the data regarding the initiation and development of BECs in the country indicates that most have been organized from the pastoral concerns and initiatives of Church agencies and institutions. The organization of BECs is externally induced, so to say, through the call for renewal of the Parish and Diocesan leadership (thanks to the PCP II’s stress on renewed, integral Evangelization). Other agencies have used the BECs as formative tools in confronting socio-political issues affecting the communities (the BCC-CO approach of NASSA reflects this thrust). Of late, some dioceses have contextualized their economic development programs in and through BECs among farmers (the promotion of organic farming in rural communities is a case in point.)
Whatever the rationale for the introduction of the BEC process, there clearly an attempt to initiate some kind of “conversion” among the communities. This “conversion” can be better described as a “paradigm shift”, a change in the way the grassroots experience faith in Jesus, in the manner they cope with and act on social issues affecting their lives, and in their way of sustaining their economic development. “Conversion” thus described is not so much an exclusively “religious experience” but a process that effects significant changes in the way the communities manage their self-development. It comprehends the acquisition of a world view and perspective to faith and the human person, the adoption of the attitudes and skills needed to a fuller, more dignifying quality of life, beyond the survival and even oppressive level of human living.
“Faith experience” among BECs is, therefore, a comprehensive and inclusive phrase. It brings to mind the image of Jesus unconfined to the altar or pedestal of a worshipping community. Rather, it unveils the Jesus who commands his disciples “to love each other” as He has loved them or who enjoins them to use their talents to the full for whatever is done to the least of his brothers and sisters is done to him.
To ensure the continuing participation of the Laity in the life and mission
of the local Church, many parishes have evolved, developed and
promoted lay ministries in the BECs. Some of the ministries deemed
essential in sustaining the BECs includes the roles of BEC Coordinators and
Organizers, Gospel Study Facilitator, Lay Eucharistic Minister, Family Life
Educator, Community-based Catechists, Youth Coordinators, Social Service Worker. In many parishes, recruitment and screening programs, preliminary orientation and training seminars precede the actual assumption into office of the ministers themselves. They are formally installed in the Parishes. While performing their given tasks, regular on-going formation and trainings are provided for. They also undergo yearly renewal of commitment to serve the communities. In this way, the ministers realize that their ministry is not for themselves but for and on behalf of the Christian communities, that whatever service they render has to redound to the building of the local Churches, specifically the BECs, and that their participation in the mission of Evangelization is primarily a gift of the Spirit.
Consequently, the proper performance of lay ministries creates enabling structures that sustain concrete, on-going conversion among the ministers. “Conversion” does not become a one--shot deal but an experience that inheres in the day-in and day-out service that lay ministers perform. It is a protracted struggle that builds on the ministers’ quest for spiritual enrichment and faith-experience in Christ, our Lord.
Sustaining the “faith-experiences” or “paradigm shifts” among the BECs
needs regularity of opportunities and stability of structures where the BECS
can integrate and deepen the process of conversion. The most commonly-
used strategy centers around the proclamation of God’s Word. Through
Gospel study, reflection and sharing, the community gathers to be shaped and nourished by Jesus’ words. They meet weekly to be enlivened by the Word and to give life to it,; at the same time, in a dialogical manner. Conversion becomes a life long process where the communities rediscover in the Word the framework and inspiration for the re-direction of their faith and the enrichment of they daily living.
The celebration of the Eucharist has also provided a continuing source of renewal in the BECs’ life of faith. Some parishes have institutionalized “street masses” that enabled the BECS not only to have easy access to the celebration of the Eucharist. More importantly, they experience the Eucharist at the core of their life-setting. The Eucharistic celebration serves as a regular venue that shapes their neighborhoods’ faith-life and deepen their relationship and culture as a people.
Other strategies that have been adopted to maintain the process of conversion refer to the use of personal renewal programs as the Parish Renewal Experience (PREX), the Life in the Spirit Seminar (LSS), the various types of Marriage Encounter (ME) or the different retreats and recollections conducted in the Parish.
Some of the renewal programs have assisted the BEC leaders and members in their spiritual growth and personal maturity. At times, the impact tends to be short-lived, emotionally-laden and dramatic, particularly if the seminars or retreats are directed to issues relating to family life or financial and work setting. But when the family or financial problems linger their participation in the BECs gets affected. Some lie low and take off from their community involvement. Others continue to be active in their ministry in the BECs, and in due time, are able to resolve their domestic conflicts.
The BECs face internal tension among their members when conflicting orientations crop up. Some renewal movements have used the BECs to recruit members to their organizations and communities. They introduce a different view or model of the Church, instill an almost blind loyalty to their own organization and institute a rigid follow-up system of the prospective members lest they fall away from their group. These conflicting ecclesiological orientations and divided loyalties have affected the BEC’s growth in number. In other circumstances, the BECs have been marginalized since the prime movers of these movements are also with the centers of power in the Parish or Diocese.
Consequently, sustaining the process of conversion or paradigm shift
among the BECs necessitates not only renewing the faith experience as a community but also their faith-life as individuals or persons and even as a family or families. It also requires a keen sense of discernment on how to address the formation needs of the BECs leaders and members and to develop spiritual programs that are not confined to the regular, packaged programs of existing organizations and movements. Extra caution has, likewise, to be given to the underlying theological orientation of these religious organizations and faith-communities. Potential conflicts with the BEC’s inherent assumptions on the Church and its mission could jeopardize the future of the BECs themselves.
Faith-life among the BECs is not self-contained. It is directed outward, to realize their participation in Christ’s mission in the world. It is aimed at the evangelization and transformation of the bigger society, taking into account the dialogue of the BECs with the task of modernization and globalization, with interfaith and ecumenical concerns, and the urgent call for organization and education for justice and peace. BECs must be able to evangelize both the Church from within and society as a whole.
The BECs immediate impact can be discerned through and in the
neighborhood system. The presence of BEC units, with the weekly prayer meeting and street evangelization program has influenced neighbors’ relationship with one another. New modalities of interaction and regular communication bring in new dynamics and patterns of dealing with each other. The use of Gospel reflection and Bible guides has given them a faith-based framework for responding to the social realities and issues that affect them as a community.
the Parish as a
BECs are described as the most fundamental unit of the local Church. It is the Church at the very roots, interlinked with the Parish and diocesan communities. They relate to the Parish leadership and organizational structure, to its thrust and priorities.
The presence of BECs in the Parish has impacted, first of all, to the personal and ministerial life of the Parish Priests. Many of the pastors have recognized the changes in their outlook and motivation, in their management system and style, in their personal approaches and pastoral dealings with the parishioners. The challenge alone of initiating the organization of BECs and sustaining their growth and expansion already puts them in situations where there they have to muster a lot of creativity, zeal and commitment. BECs pose profound challenges to the priests’ own mission and ministry, to their personal and spiritual maturity.
Others who have not been supportive of BECs reveal a different kind of theological and ecclesiological orientation and, sometimes, conflicting pastoral priorities. Parishes where BECs are conspicuously absent or where they have a low level of survival attribute their difficulty to these unsupportive pastors.
Likewise, similar problem areas exist in the BECs’ relationship with the Parish lay leadership. In most instances the Parish Councils are managed by lay leaders coming from either the mandated organizations or faith-renewal communities. The disparity of orientations and loyalties between or among them contribute to the non-implementation or slow progress of BECs. They even tend to regard BECs as actual competitors and potential threats to their positions of authority and system of control in the Parish. In these cases, BECs hardly make a dent in the evangelization of the center-based Parish organizations.
Evangelizing the bigger Communities
phenomenon of BECs in the
Many bishops and priests, leaders of religious and mandated organizations were carried away by this propaganda against BCCs. They were wary of their presence and some had to withdraw their support from what Karl Rahner called “the shape of the Church to come.” The BCCs that persevered and those that were organized without wholehearted support from the leadership of the parish and diocese veered to becoming “parallel churches”. They started to be independent from the parishes. Without rootedness in the local Church and the life-giving nourishment it provides these BCCs sooner or later withered and disappeared.
After the “EDSA revolution” in 1986, the bishops felt that BCCs could and should be able to direct the power unleashed by the people at EDSA. But they felt some changes needed to be done. The firsts the change of name, from Basic Christian Communities to Basic Ecclesial Communities. To avoid the misconception attached to BCC, the Church would have to stress the ecclesiality of the Christian Communities. BECs had to renew their mission and identity in the context of Church-life, and from there, expand outward.
the prompting of the Second Plenary Council of the
Ten years later, the Philippine Church evaluated the nature and extent of renewal brought about by PCP II. It convened the National Consultation on Pastoral Renewal (NCPR), and after a week of deliberation identified the promotion of BECs as one of the Church’s pastoral priorities. BECs remains as a way of renewing the Church from within through lay empowerment and a way of becoming a “Church of the Poor”.
The impact of BECs, therefore, to the broader contour of the Philippine Church and society is quite ambiguous. On the one hand, much has been said about it in media, among the military circles, in seminars and assemblies of the national and local Churches. It has been publicly declared and officially embraced in the vision and mission statements of the diocesan and parish pastoral plans. Yet, among BEC practitioners, it is felt that there is still so much resistance and opposition to its full implementation. In the concrete, daily routine of Parish life, the promotion of BECs has remained as an agenda, if not altogether, submerged in the avalanche of traditional activities and seasonal practices in the Parish. They have attributed this malaise to the still-bemuddled concept of BEC among the leaders of the Parish and to the lack of conversion to its full import. BECS still remain a challenge to the Church,, a direction that has to be consistently and systematically pursued.
Contemporary missiologists have identified three components in the Church’s mission of Evangelization. They are proclamation, inculturation and social transformation.
If BECs are the most fundamental units of the Parish and Diocesan communities, they too must contain the components that make up the mission of Christ himself. They must be seen and evaluated through the prisn of proclamation, inculturation and social transformation in the task of Evangelization.
questions apropos of
this can be raised. How is the element
of proclamation being realized in BECs? How do they
witness to communities where other faiths are more dominant as the situation
that prevails with our brother and sister Muslims in
By their very nature, BECs are in the natural setting or locale where witnessing to faith and life and the interactive dynamics between them can come easily come into play. As neighbors, the BEC members cannot fake the way they live the faith in as much they know each other through and through.
It is either they help each one to grow in perfection, “as the Heavenly Father is perfect.” Or they can push each other down and break up the community ties that unite them.
This dimension of witnessing remains crucial in the birth and growth of BECs. Simple problems between neighbors can be easily magnified; ordinary spats between spouses and among siblings can flow to the neighboring families; financial woes or moral indebtedness among members of the BECs and neighborhood could escalate into misunderstandings and conflicts. Whatever the case, the community gets affected. The BECs’ task to proclaim the Good News through witnessing remains an uphill climb or a roller-coater ride.
From Basic Ecclesial Communities to Basic Human Communities, an Interfaith Experience.
In parts of the country where the
Muslim presence is significant, Church workers have promoted what is described
as basic human communities. The shift of focus from ecclesial
to human communities highlights the commonality
that exists among neighbors. It is now directed
to the promotion of human dignity and Kingdom Values in our quest for total
human development. Among the strategies
adopted to bring this about include the Church’s participation in the peace
process of the
Likewise, the question of environmental and ecological preservation has become a common agenda among practitioners of the basic human communities. To develop, protect and nurture Mother Earth could galvanize men and women of varying faith. It is effective in arousing growing interfaith response.
Hence, while a number of Catholic find it a challenge to expressly proclaim their faith to their non-Christian brothers and sisters, nonetheless, their commitment to integral human development through concrete, shared understakings or projects bespeak a human, humble way of living out their faith.
BECs and Ecunemical Concerns
Another angle to the proclamation aspects of BECs concerns their dealings with other Churches and Christian denominations and sects. Witnessing to unity suffers when proseletyzing persists among the neighbors in the community. The presence of “born again” Christian groups often triggers this off. The attempt to convert each other creates serious conflicts among them, making any effort to organize the community futile and almost impossible.
But when the ecumenical spirit exists as the case among some members of the World Council of Churches (Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterans, etc.), witnessing to Christian faith creates deep trust, openness and collaboration in the community, Ecumenism has become an effective tool in promoting a shared mission among Christians. BECs that have experienced this have grown sturdier and more deeply rooted in Christ’s own injuction: “Go and proclaim to Good News…. Make disciples of all nations….”
BECs and the Task of Inculturation
The Church’s mission of Evangelization gets deeper as it is able to express and realize itself in the cultural modalities of the people, and from within, transform them to affect change in the wider or bigger culture.
This task entails a process, that of Inculturation, which in turn involves three stages. The first is translation of the Word of God into the language of the communities. The Gospel is communicated using the people’s worldview (the way people perceive, explain, describe and integrate the reality within and around them), so that they are able to respond in faith to the cost of discipleship that Christ offers. Listening to and acting on the Word is a dynamic process that unites the BEC members along a shared perspective, where they make their own tangible contribution to the enfleshment of the Gospel in their lives.
The second stage refers to the assimilation of the Gospel into the culture of the community, the bigger neighborhood. The regular prayer meetings where the Gospel shapes the BEC members into a community provide them opportunities to relate to each other based on the Gospel framework. Conversion as a community gradually evolves. The evangelization of culture as it is expressed in the neighborhood communities slowly provides norms of conduct and behavior, ideals and principles where the communities can critique themselves and embrace the necessary changes.
The third stage is the transformation of the bigger culture where the BECs are embedded. The transformation occurs as the communities act and interact to the pressures and problems, the forces and conflicts that society impinges on them. The Word-inspired and faith-motivated communities direct their efforts to purify or alter all that do not promote quality human Christian life and to reinforce the cultural trait that dignifies and upholds their self-respect as members of society.
These three stages are life-long processes that BECs embark on. The stability and continuity of the BECs’ evangelizing efforts depends, to a large extent, on their ability to inculturate the Church into their very culture and setting as a people. The presence or absence of an inculturated. Church lies in the way the BECs translate and assimilate Christ’s Word and message and make it the basis of their transforming task in society,
BECs in the country have succeded in leaps and bounds in their inculturation efforts. Depending on significant variables (the setting and context of the BECs, the number of years that they have been organized, the regularity and degree of the formation and training of the leaders and members, the consistency of prayer meetings, etc), the BECs show varying levels of responding to the task of inculturation. More serious studies and research are needed to find out the extent of such inculturation process.
BECS and Social Transformation
This is the third component of Evangelization. It is not enough that BECs are able to proclaim the Good News through the witnessing to faith-life or to evangelize culture and the cultures of communities. The Evangelization process must bring about the transformation of structures in society, particularly those that do not enhance social equality among people.
The Church involvement in the social question is multi-faceted and multi-layared. But one of the major strategies identified that could facilitate the Church’s effective response to the issues of justice and poverty lies in the mobilization and development of basic human/Christian/ecclesial communities.
BECs focus on grassroots’ participation not only in the Church through lay enpowerment and ministries, but more particularly, in the bigger society where they belong. The organization and education for justice that justice in the World has stressed must be directed to the plight of the poor and the marginalized, the victims of oppression and discrimination in society. And most often, they are the grassroots of the Parish communities. This is where BECs as a key strategy to development and social transformation could find a natural habitat. BECs starting off point are the people themselves most of whom are unevangelized, deprived and oppressed. In the tasks of organization and formation, the BECs are able to go through a conscientization or consciousness-raising process, to journey together in making themselves economically self-relient and in achieving political self-determination.
BECs in the
BEC Assembly has also disclosed the increasing number of BECs
that employ poverty alleviation programs and economic sustainability
undertakings. The experiences of the
Northern Luzon BECs and those of Western and
this juncture, it might help to raise other missiological
concerns that relate to BECS. What are
the potentials of pursuing the Church’s missionary activity through BECs in foreign lands? On the other hand, What can BECs do to intensify the
re-evangelization of the Philippine Church today? What lies ahead of BECs in the
One of the pastoral priorities out by the NCPR is directed to the Filipinos’ responsibility to evangelize not only non-Christians (the missionary activity in the evangelization of people) but most especially the Christians who have lost their faith or have found it irrelevant to their needs, are simply indifferent to the dimensions of faith.
Many Filipinos overseas,
particularly in a non-Christian context (migrants in the middle East, southeast
These groups of migrant workers have also the capacity to evangelize the non-Christian culture into which they are immersed. Many stories abroad, chronicling the stories of Filipino migrant workers’ impact into the persons, families and communities of their employment. How to unleash the potentials of these groups is the responsibility posed to the receiving Churches of the Filipino migrant workers.
BECs and the Challenge of Re-evangelization.
In Redemptoris Missio, John Paull II
reiterated the need to re-evangelize what were once Christian contries but are presently suffering from spiritual lethangy due to a highly secularized way of life. PCP II re-echoed this in its Acts and Decrees
and asserted that BECs are what it also takes to
To re-evangelize, the Church has to move outward, towards the marginalized. It has to immerse itself in people’s life-setting and from there, in a dialogue of faith of life, of Christ and culture, the communities get formed, responding to the social contexts that affect them. From these communities are born the BECs, serving us the new way of being Church. They find the fullness of their growth in their rootedness in the bigger assembly of the Christian communities, the Parish or Diocese. The BECs that flow from this process of re-evangelization heralds the birth of the Church to come.
Whether the BECs
The missiological perspective that has been used to look at the Philippine experience of BEC promotion centered on Evangelization. Understanding Evangelization as faith-experience remains the underlying missiological theme.
It runs through our analysis of BECs’ evangelized and evangelizing thrusts. It underscores BECs’ integration of the components of proclamation, inculturation and social transformation in their organization and development.
While BECs have gone a long way in the work of Evangelization. This paper shows that they have still a long journey ahead of them to evangelize the Church from within and to re-evangelize the macro-level of our society. The journey has to be seriously pursue, , the inner force for conversion unleashed and the potentials fully realized.
This challenge is directed not only to the BECs themselves. More urgently, the leadership in the Parish and diocesan communities have to do double time to catch up with the fast speed by which the world today has progressed. The Church cannot afford to renege on its mission, much less to lose zest and vigor in the singular work of Evangelization.