The Pursuit of the BEC Direction in the Archdiocese of Manila: In Search of Shared Framework
Msgr. Manny Gabriel
There are a number consultation processes in the Archdiocese of Manila that have helped articulate the BEC (BCC) as the primary direction for the evangelization of the Metropolis. Some of these are the Synod of Manila (1979), the PCP II (1991), the one-year on-going formation of the priests of the Archdiocese (1994-1995), the Caritas/Archdiocesan Labor desk-sponsored consultations among BEC-oriented parishes (1995) and the BEC for a coordinated by the Archdiocesan desk (1996).
Reflecting on these processes, one cannot but recognize the fact that there is something going on in the Archdiocese in so far as the BEC implementation is concerned; that a certain framework exists among some BEC practioners; that despite the diverse, if not conflicting, understanding of BEC, there is a certain attempt to articulate a shared framework.
1. In the Archdiocese, there is an urgent search to clarity first of all, the concept of the New Evangelization or Re-evangelization and the role of BECs in bringing it about Article III No. 1 of the PCP II decrees has this to say: "In formation of BECs, re-evangelization will be given the highest priority."
"New Evangelization" is not just "renewed evangelization," or "integral evangelization" or both "renewed, integral evangelization."
Technically speaking, it is the third stage of the one, indivisible mission of the Church (the first being Missio ad Gentes, and the second, Pastoral Care). John Paul II's Redemptoris Missio describes thus (#33), "Thirdly, there is an intermediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient roots, and occasionally in younger Churches as well, where the entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ, and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a "new evangelization" or "re-evangelization."
A little further in the document, John Paul II specifies the place of BECs. He asserts that "Ecclesial Base Communities is a force for Evangelization (#51). He considered them a "sign vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization a solid starting point for a new society based on a civilization of love... these communities become (also) a means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.'
Each local Church, therefore, will have to discern their level of Evangelization. (Missio ad Gentes Pastoral Care, Re-evangelization). When PCP II applies New Evangelization to the Philippine setting, it surely admits that the practice of faith among our people is "far removed from Christ and his Gospel." It seems to argue that there is truly a need for a new direction and context, not merely new approaches and methodologies, new spirit or boldness, new means and resources to Evangelization.
If in the traditional evangelization of the Parish setting, the context was the center where people attend services, with their religious/devotional concerns, where the Parish priest wields power with some anointed lay people, following a top - bottom decision-making process, exacting a uniformity of faith-expressions-under the mission of New Evangelization - the context will have to be directed towards the marginalized, unevangelized population of the Parish, taking their life-situation and struggles as the starting off point of community building, where lay empowerment and ministries is crucial and bottom - top decision-making is necessary, all geared to integral, social transformation.
From the experience of BEC practioners in the Archdiocese, there are many movements professing renewed, integral evangelization, but the context and setting have remained the same. Instead of being forces for the New Evangelization, they have even neutralized the BEC process or further reinforced old mentalities and structures, thus rendering the work of promoting BECs doubly difficult.
In the Archdiocese of Manila, this is the first reality that has to be confronted.
2. The second areas of search revolves around our understanding of "ecclesial life." What makes the communities their very core truly and effectively "Church"?
The FABC Colloquium on Ministries (1977) has this theological input to share (#11-13): "The reality of the Church becomes actualized in diverse ways or various levels; this is the mystery of the "local Church" in its many forms. Among these, Vatican II has signaled out the "particularly Church" or diocesan community as having special ecclesial significance due to the presence in its midst of the bishop.
The traditional parish community, while it needs to be open to the diocese, nevertheless embodies the mystery of the Church in a genuine sense.
In some area a form of Christian community living has developed which is termed as "Basic Christian Community." These small communities need to be linked to the ministry of the bishop (and the priestly ministry) they nevertheless embody the mystery of the Church in their own right. In reality, the closer to life, the more 'local' the Church is..."
The difficulty of promoting the BEC direction in the Archdiocese hinges not only on the understanding of Mission (New Evangelization) but also on the concept of the local Churches and lay ministries. Some priests have baptized small prayer groups (whether based on the center of the neighborhood) as BECs. Others have re-aligned religious organizations along the ministries of Workshop, Education, Social Services, Temporalities, Youth (add to this the Provincial Council of Manila's proposal to include Administrative and Physical Planning, Public Affairs and Family Ministries), claiming that his is already BEC restructuring. A number have considered neighborhood units used for tithing as BECs, even without the other vital aspects of the BEC direction.
If BECs are the most fundamental "local Churches," they must be engaged in total and not specialized ministries. Neighborhood units will have to develop their own coordinators/leaders, lay liturgical ministers, catechists, bible/Gospel facilitators, social services coordinators. These ministers are to be credited by the Parish, formed and trained according to the New Evangelization and commissioned to minister to their communities towards the building of the Kingdom.
The process of building the local Churches from below requires a new ecclesiological viewpoint shared by the whole Church. Otherwise, it will be hardly seen as viable and worth-trying. Consequently, the priests in the Archdiocese trying to make it work find themselves going against the tide searching for creative means to develop the ministries from below and to promote an ecclesiology that can give birth and nourishment to the "particular" Churches at the roots.
3. The evangelization of culture and cultures is another factor in the quest for a common understanding of BEC. Considering the multi-cultural character of the Archdiocese, where media and entertainment have successfully shaped are still shaping the general culture of the Metropolis, BECs cannot but be geared to evangelize such culture and cultures, committed to offering alternative value systems based on the Gospel and the Kingdom, through its formation and education in faith.
At the same time, BECs are to inculturate the Gospel and its message into the very fiber of the people's lives. The process is tedious and painstaking, as many BEC practitioners heve experienced. But it has to go on. BECs, in the long run, will be the subject or agents of inculturation in the local Churches.
Another aspect of inculturation that relates very intimately to the Manila experience lies in the challenge posed by urbanization and modernity. BECs are to confront the environment of both the Church and modernized societies.
There is growing number of parishes involved in adapting BECs according to the needs of subdivision dwellers and in injecting its spirit to various offices and functional/associational groups or religious movements. However, a more serious study has to be done to determine how workable or effective they are in the task of re-evangelization.
4. The last dimension of the quest lies in a shared understanding of social transformation the Archdiocese and its relationship to BECs.
Urban living in Metro Manila has spawned new social problems that have reinforced and compounded the still uncorrected structure of injustice and violence in our country. Worsening situations of homelessness and squatter-living, escalating lawlessness and breakdown of peace and order, the culture of violence penetrating the home, resulting into the collapse of family values and morality) most notable of which is the phenomenon of incest, battered women and children) - all this and more - bespeak of the crying need for social transformation in the Archdiocese. Where and how do we begin... which is the symptom and the root cause... where and how to relate the macro situations and the micro components, the personal/communal/social dimensions of Evangelization-this where the common search commences, where each one voices out a philosophy of social change and Church mission, quite diverse from each other.
The BEC practitioner in the Archdiocese are easily tempted to concentrate on the intrapersonal level. It falls right smack into the privatized faith that is very strong today. At the same time, they tend to regard social transformation as way beyond them and their capabilities.
BEC and social transformation are intimately linked. One can be without the other, especially in the context of the Philippines and Metro Manila.
Our dialogue in the Archdiocese have convinced us that we first need to review our assumptions, to check our experiences and to go back to the very roots, our contact with our suffering people.