Notes on BECs and the Church of the Future
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
BEC National Assembly
Cebu City, November 14, 2002
Let me first thank the organizers of this national consultation for bringing together so many people from all over the Philippines to this national assembly on Basic Ecclesial Communities. You have come to pray, reflect, share and discuss together your thoughts and experiences. After the 2001 National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal this is the first time BEC practitioners have assembled. I am certain that for the past three days each parish or diocese has realized that in its effort to build Basic Ecclesial Communities hindi kayo nagiisa. You have learned from one another, inspired and encouraged one another in this pastoral work that is of great importance for the Church.
But what Church are we speaking about? We are speaking about the Church of the future. But can we predict what shape the Church of the future would have? As one wit has said, to predict is always dangerous especially when it is about the future. So let me not predict but simply dream about a Church in the Philippines that is renewed. The vision that I speak about is not something new. Eleven years ago in 1991 the groundbreaking Second Plenary Council of the Philippines articulated a vision of Church. It was then that the Holy Spirit planted the seed of a new Church in the mind of the participants. For all the eager and enthusiastic people believers who crave for change in the Church and in society, the seed of renewal was also sown in the heart.
Unfortunately that vision of a truly "many splendored Church" has remained to a great extent dormant in many areas of the Church. How sad, how frustrating, how exasperating that the language of both Vatican II and PCP-II is used in Church circles, but structures of old, traditional ways of ministering, and governing, of participating, and of evangelizing have not changed very much. So you had reports of "lights and shadows" in the previous days of this assembly. In many areas of the Church not only is the wineskin old but also the wine. No really substantive renewal seems to be taking place. In other places the problem is often that the wine is, indeed, new but unfortunately the wineskin is old. The values and the attitudes are old, even if new church structures and organizations are set up.
Therefore, even today the vision of a Church renewed, a new way of being Church, still simply waits – even begs – for realization.
This is why we have gathered for these past few days. We want to explore how we together can cast our nets even more daringly into the difficult and problem filled waters of our Christian lives and our communities and renew ourselves as Church. Duc in altum!
The PCP-II Vision of a Renewed Church.
You will recall that PCP-II asked the crucial question:
considering the lights and shadows of our present pastoral situation (political, economic, social, cultural, religious) today, how are we "to live as Christians? As Filipino Catholics?" (PCP-II, no. 35).
The answer the Council gave is very simple: "It is to know, to love, to follow Christ in the Church which he has founded"(PCP-II, no. 36). Saying this is simple enough but doing it is so difficult and challenging. Because such discipleship requires the believer to move with God’s grace from sinfulness and conversion to a faith that is informed and mature, committed and engaged, communitarian and inculturated.
We can readily see that our failures in discipleship are writ large into the very fabric of our social, economic, and political systems and even in our culture that, many observers say, is damaged.
PCP-II asked yet another question not only of us as individual disciples but as Church.
"How must we as Church act and relate to our world? What kind of a Church must we be to meet the challenge of our society as we turn into the third millennium?"(PCP-II, no. 87).
PCP-II envisions a renewed Church that is thoroughly credible and effective, a Church that is clearly the presence of Christ on earth, a witness and also the bearer of Christ and his Gospel, a Church faithfully and zealously fulfilling its mission of integral evangelization and acting as a Gospel leaven in Philippine society, transforming our society from within.
So what precisely is this vision of Church? I think of this vision in terms of five movements of integral renewal.
A movement toward Authentic Discipleship. God is calling the Church to become what it really is – in word and deed a faithful disciple of the Lord. At the beginning of this journey of discipleship is an encounter with the Lord and conversion. A movement toward true Community. The Church must truly become Communion. In the diversity of its members, it must become a community, united in mind and heart, whose central and primary focus is Jesus and the Kingdom that he proclaimed. It is a community that is devoid of destructive division of whatever kind, economic, political, and cultural. A movement toward a Participatory Church. The Holy Spirit gave each one of us at Baptism and Confirmation various gifts that are meant not only for personal salvation but also for the sake of the Christian community. These gifts must be activated so as to enable every member of the Church to participate actively in the growth and renewal of the Church and in the transformation of our society according to the values of the Kingdom of God and of the Gospel. A movement toward an Inculturated Church. The Church does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it an island unto itself, impervious or insensitive to the ways of living, valuing and relating that various peoples and communities have. It is a Church that brings the culture of the Gospel into human cultures, interacting with them, enriching and purifying them and at the same time is enriched by the rich varieties of different cultures. It thus becomes incarnate in a particular place and among a particular people. A movement toward a Church of the Poor. Following the example of Christ Head and Shepherd, the Church must practice evangelical poverty, have a special love of preference for the poor, be in solidarity with them, promote justice for them, not only be their voice but also their home. A Church of the Poor relies heavily on the power of the poor to evangelize.
Such in brief is the shape of the Church of the future.
The Place and Role of BEC’s in the PCP-II Vision of Church.
And what about the Basic Ecclesial Community in this vision of Church? PCP-II goes beyond the cautious acknowledgment of the Holy Father regarding the great promise of the Basic Ecclesial Communities.
PCP-II boldly proclaims:
Our vision of the Church as communion, participation, and mission, about the Church as priestly, prophetic and kingly people and as a Church of the poor – a Church that is renewed – is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement. This is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities.
A bold confession, indeed, yet quite humble in its claim. For note the title of the section (PCP-II, nos. 137-40), "Basic Ecclesial Communities: An Expression of Renewal." PCP-II does not claim that Basic Ecclesial Communities are the expression of renewal, but only an expression of renewal. PCP-II in fact recognizes that "there are many other forms of small faith communities today." But the language of the PCP-II text and the thrust of PCP-II decrees on BECs both indicate, it would seem to me, a deliberate preference for this renewal movement. There are seven distinct recommendations/decrees related to BEC in PCP-II (see Title XII, section 3. Basic Ecclesial Communities, nos. 109-112). PCP-II even decrees that "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 (italics mine) of Basic Ecclesial Communities" (PCP-II, no.77, #2).
And note again what PCP-II observes about the relationships between BECs and "traditional Church organizations." These organizations "respond to the need of the lay faithful to belong to a group supportive of Christian aspirations. They provide an environment and support for apostolic endeavors. Basic Ecclesial Communities do not necessarily make such associations superfluous, for these latter usually have a wider scope of service and draw their membership from the whole parish" (PCP-II no. 608). Still, the members of traditional organizations "should be encouraged to be involved in BEC’s and their parochial activities should be in accord and in coordination with parish pastoral priorities and programs" (PCP-II, no. 609).
Given these necessary qualifications, PCP-II affirms that traditional organizations as well as other movements of renewal "are able to impart to their members Catholic teaching, a sense of fraternal belonging, a love of the Word of God, and a love of prayer. They are instruments of genuine conversion, venues of life-changing encounters with the Lord. They are schools of evangelistic zeal" (PCP-II, no. 610).
Where then do the tensions between BEC’s and traditional organizations and new renewal movements occur?
From my pastoral experience 22 years with the BEC thrust, the tensions occur when an entire diocese definitively decides to use the building of BEC as a strategic tool of systematic and coordinated pastoral renewal in line with the vision of PCP-II.
When such a pastoral decision is taken, obviously the letter and spirit of PCP-II, no. 609 would have to be followed: (a) encouragement of members of organizations and movements to be involved in BEC; (b) their activities to be in accord and coordination with parish pastoral priorities and programs. When these do not take place and traditional organizations go their own way, then difficulties, confusion and conflicts in the parish take place. Especially is this so "when they develop loyalty to their leader or group loyalty stronger than their loyalty to the wider Church" and thus "become sects." (PCP-II, no. 611).
In the face of these dangers, the local Church headed by the Bishop would have to make one of two prudential decisions: (a) re-orient the traditional organization or the new movement toward the diocesan pastoral priorities and programs and transform them into venues for individual apostolate that would complement their primary relationship with the BEC, or (b) failing this, to prohibit the organization or movement from operating in the diocese, until such time as they are able to integrate themselves into the pastoral priority of the local Church.
When the conditions laid down by PCP-II, no. 609, are ignored the diocese becomes simply a free-for-all arena of competition for membership and apostolate among good intentioned organizations and movements. Any hope of systematic and coordinated movement of renewal within the diocese will inevitably collapse. I have seen this collapse of vision and renewal in many parishes and in two dioceses. They would have to begin the work of renewal all over again.
The secret then consists of re-orientation, coordination, and integration.
The Nine Pastoral Priorities: Expectations of the Vision in relation to BEC’s
But let us move on to another question: to realize the vision of a renewed Church, what is expected of BEC’s? The question, of course, would also have to be asked of all organizations and movements.
Here we come to see the absolute importance and necessity of the nine pastoral priorities that the National Consultation on Church Renewal drew up in 2001, ten years after
Remember that the Consultation was convoked by the Bishops to reflect "on how far we as Church have fulfilled the grand vision and mission proposed by PCP-II." The reflection resulted in the following confession: "The Church in the Philippines has, to our shame, also remain unchanged in some respects." Many decrees of PCP-II have not been implemented due to:
weakness in formation and education; lack of defined diocesan pastoral directions and programs; deficiencies in structures.
More deeply, failures in renewal, "due to hardness of heart and resistance to conversion."
We share some responsibility for many of the continuing ills of Philippine society because:
new attitudes, options, and lifestyles demanded by the vision of a renewed Church – honored only in words, rejected in life, even by some in positions of leadership; inaction, uncritical acceptance of values and patterns of behavior of the dominant society; lack of consistent witnessing.
Therefore, nine pastoral priorities, each demanding radical conversion of mind and heart, requiring deep prayer and union with Christ, especially in the Eucharist:
Note – Novo Millennio Ineunte –
all activities have to be directed
to the universal call to holiness.
ntegral faith formation– rooted in prayer and the Eucharist – this is at the heart of renewal;
Animation and Formation for Mission ad gentes;
Integral renewal of the clergy (religious);
Empowerment of the laity toward social transformation;
consult a wide range of women’s experience in different life situations;
Journeying with the Youth;
Active presence of the Poor in the Church;
Building and strengthening participatory communities that
that make up the Parish as a Community of Communities.
THE FAMILY AS THE FOCAL POINT
Ecumenism and Interreligious dialogue
- dialogue of life, faith, and prayer; reconciliation.
"We enjoin all communities of faith to engage in contextualized pastoral reflection, dialogue, discernment, planning, and action on these nine pastoral priorities."
"We repeat our invitation to all to the conversion and prayer that alone makes renewal possible."
Duc in altum! Put out into the deep (Lk. 5:4).