An Ecclesiological Framework:
The Promotion of the Social Action Dimension in BEC Formation
in the Light of PCP II, the National Pastoral Plan and
BEC Program and Experiences
Rev. Amado L. Picardal, C.Ss.R., STD
Why should BECs be engaged in social action? Why should they be involved in social transformation? What is the theoretical framework that underlies the social praxis of BECs?
We can approach this question from a moral-ethical perspective and answer that social action is a moral imperative demanded by our being human and by being Christians.
We may also approach this from a missiological perspective and say that action for justice and social transformation is a constitutive dimension of the evangelizing mission. This is the line that is developed in part III of the PCP II document: a renewed social apostolate is an aspect of renewed evangelization.
We can also view this from an ecclesiological framework and say that involvement in social action - in the work of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, is demanded by the very nature and mission of the Church and of the BECs (which are a way of being Church). This is the perspective that we will explore.
The ecclesiological framework that we will consider is the one provided by PCP II. The specific question that we are addressing is: What is the PCP II vision of the Church and how does the social action dimension in BEC formation fit into this ecclesiological framework?
The PCP II vision of the Church can be found in the second part of the PCP II
document which is entitled "Envisioning a Church Renewed." The general heading
of the section on the Church is: "Discipleship in Community - the Church."
Analyzing the structure of this section we see that it embraces several
ecclesiological themes: communion, participation, mission; priestly, prophetic,
kingly people; Church of the poor. There is a paragraph that sums up the PCP II
vision of the Church and links it to the BECs (Par 137):
Usually emerging at the grassroots among poor farmers and workers, Basic
Ecclesial Communities consciously strive to integrate their faith and their
daily life. They are guided and encouraged by regular catechesis. Poverty and
their faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for
justice, and towards a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy.
2. The members share the Word of God and guided by regular catechesis. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as a prophetic people).
3. The communities gather around the Eucharist and have a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as priestly people).
4. These communities are concerned with socio-economic issues and are involved in the action for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. (This corresponds to the the understanding of the church a kingly people).
5. They emerge among the poor and they empower the poor. (This in a way corresonds ot the vision of the Church as church of the poor.)
Let us now go over these ecclesiological themes and explore how the BECs concretely express or realize them and consider their implication for the social action dimension in BEC formation.
The Church as Communion
The understanding of the Church as communion or koinonia occupies a dominant place in the PCP II preparatory documents. Commenting on the seven working papers that were prepared independently by different commissions, Bishop Claver observes that "they remarkably converged on one theme, among others, of renewing the Church along the lines of a Church of communion."
As it appears in the PCP II document, the ecclesiology of communion is placed under the heading of the Church as discipleship in community and integrated with the vision of the Church as mission and participation, as a priestly-prophetic-kingly people, and as the Church of the Poor. The theme of ecclesial communion is initially treated in par 89-90:
The first disciples expressed this in their own lives. They formed a community in which they "devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42-47). They were "of one heart and mind" and shared even the things they owned so that no one among them was in want (Acts 4:32-35).
PCP II further spells out what ecclesial communion implies: (1) unity in diversity, (2) equality in dignity. This unity is expressed in "sharing and mutual interaction of the different members" (par 92). The idea of community of goods is included in this notion of communion:
Between all the various parts of the Church there is a bond of close communion whereby spiritual riches, apostolic workers and temporal resources are shared. For the members of the People of God are called upon to share their good" (par 94).
Ecclesial Communion therefore describes the unity and sharing among the members of the Church which is based on a common faith , which is celebrated in the breaking of the bread, and which is concretly expressed in the sharing of material goods. What is shared is not only the Word of God or the Eucharistic Bread but also the material goods and resources.
This unity and sharing can be realized in different levels of the Church - whether universal and local, diocesan and parochial, within communities and between communities, within families and among families.
The BECs may be regarded as a locus of realization of ecclesial communion. In these communities communion can be more intimately and concretely experienced. The members can live as a community of friends and disciples in the Lord. Koinonia may be inculturated with the Filipino values of pakikisama, bayanihan, and pakikipagkapwa-tao. The ecclesiology of communion also assures that the BECs do not become isolated autonomous communities. It promotes unity and solidarity with other BECs. It preserves their unity with their pastors and maintains their link with the local and universal Church. Thus, the danger of sectarianism and a ghetto mentality is avoided.
How does the social action dimension of BEC formation fit into the ecclesiology of communion?
Community of Goods
In the New Testament, koinonia is the term used for the collection that is taken up and sent to other Christian communities that are in need. Thus, for many BECs that are poor, communion is experienced when they receive material or financial aid from other communities or local churches that are well off. The aid is used for emergency relief operations especially in times of natural disasters. Aid is also used as starting capital for community socio-economic projects.
Unity and Solidarity
Communion can be expressed when BECs unite with other BECs especially in mobilization for justice, peace and environmental issues. In San Fernando, Bukidnon, communion was experienced and deepened when the various BECs within the parish and from other parishes came together at the barricades to pressure the government to stop the denudation of the forest by the logging companies. In Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur, communion between BECs was expressed in their common struggle against the dam project that would inundate their farms and villages. Many successful cooperatives that have been set up are joint ventures of several BECs within the parish and the diocese. Communion in these instances means the unity and solidarity that is experienced as the BECs struggle for social transformation.
The experience and understanding of BECs as communion is summed up
beautifully in the final draft of a PCP II preparatory document, "Church and
PCP II links the ecclesiology of communion with the theme of participation in the mission of Christ as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people. Participation in the threefold mission is an expression of communion and deepens communion.
Vatican II has popularized the image of the Church as the People of God. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, links the idea of the people of God with the ecclesiological trilogy of the priestly, prophetic and kingly people. According to Wojtyla, this constitute the inner physiognomy of the people of God. This means that the Church as a whole participates in the messianic mission of Christ as priest, prophet and king. The Church, therefore, is by its very nature and mission a priestly, prophetic and kingly community.
The Church is a prophetic people. She proclaims the Word of God, teaches it and witnesses to it. The work of evangelization and catechesis is part of this prophetic mission. It also involves denunciation and annunciation. (1) The Church denounces sin and evil in society (e.g. the idolatry of power and wealth, injustice, oppression, the culture of death), (2) She announces the message about the coming of God's kingdom - a message of salvation, of justice, peace and liberation. The prophetic nature of the Church corresponds to the Herald model.
The Church is a priestly people. This priesthood is concretely expressed in the full and active partcipation in the liturgical-sacramental celebration, in prayer and thanksgiving, in active charity, in the offering of spiritual sacrifices, and in self-sacrifice which may include the readiness for martyrdom when necessary. The priestly nature of the Church corresponds to the model of the Church as Sacrament.
The Church is a kingly people. The kingly nature is expressed in service. The Church is the servant of humanity, the servant of the kingdom. She struggles against the dominion of sin and evil in the world. The Church works to transform society to make the kingdom of God a reality in the life of the people. The Church actively participates in the struggle for integral liberation and development. She works for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. The kingly nature of the Church corresponds to the Servant model.
The ecclesiogical trilogy of priest-prophet-king integrates the three models of the Church as sacrament, herald and servant and links these with the communion model.
The social action dimension is primarily located in the kingly nature of the
Church - the Church as servant. It may also be linked with the prophetic nature
of the Church, especially in the proclamation of the message of liberation - of
justice and peace. Since active charity is a component of the priestly nature of
the Church - then it can also be concretely expressed in social action. This is
called for by the integration of faith and life, of liturgy and praxis.
The three-fold nature and mission of the People of God introduced by Vatican II has been appropriated for the BECs in the Philippines. This is the ecclesiological perspective that many institutions and programs promoting BECs have in common.
It was the MSPC that first used this framework. In 1971, the theme of the first MSPC was "The Church in Mindanao and Sulu: The Teaching, Worshipping and Serving Community." The three-fold nature of the Church in Mindanao-Sulu corresponds to the three-fold nature and mission of the Church as prophetic (teaching), priestly (worshipping) and kingly (serving) community. When MSPC began promoting the formation of the Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban or the GKK, this framework was used to describe them. These communities were regarded as witnessing, worshipping and serving communities.
Following the MSPC the Prelature of Tagum used this ecclesiological trilogy to describe the GKK that were just emerging and the ministries that were developing. Ruben Birondo articulated the vision of the GKKs in Tagum:
The Christian Community is a prophetic, celebrating and serving community. These characteristics follow from the sense of "being together." Therefore each BCC has three sets of ministries corresponding to the three characteristics of the Christian community.
(1) Prophetic Ministries. The Christian Community is prophetic when members collectively meditate on the Word of God and apply it to their lives. Prayer, reflection and discernment are necessary for witnessing. In the BCC the leader of this set of ministries is the Formator who is in charge both of the leaders and of the members. He is assisted by the catechists, the Pre-Cana lecturers, the Family Life lecturers, the Bible-Sharing facilitators.
(2) The Priestly Ministries. The Christian Community is priestly when, to inspire, strengthen and deepen the witnessing, the community celebrates its life and its "being together." This type of ministry is headed by the kaabag or lay cooperators. He is charged with conducting the Sunday Services, preaching, distribution of communion, taking communion to the sick, and blessing people and things. Other ministries under him are the Prayer Leaders, Lectors, Song leaders, Musicians and Altar Boys.
(3) The Kingly Ministries. The Christian Community is kingly when the
community becomes alive and alert due to the witnessing and celebration.
Services follow from this sense of being alive. At the head of this type of
ministry is the President whose role it is to coordinate and guide the wisdom
and talents in the direction of service. Assisting him are the vice-President,
the Secretary, the Treasurer, the Auditor .... Also under this type of ministry
fall the ministries of different community services such as health, nutrition,
social action, cooperatives, documentation and so on.
By virtue of the baptism and confirmation received by all the members, the small Christian community is called and sent in the name of Jesus Christ as prophets, servants, and priests.
Prophets. The small Christian community is sent to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to all men and the vocation of all Christians in the Plan of God. It witnesses its faith in Jesus Christ in announcing the Christian message and living the Christian values within and without. It is a teaching community nourished by faith.
Servants. The small Christian community is committed to total human development. It is committed to the welfare of the people, to the promotion of peace, justice, human dignity and human rights. It is a serving community motivated by charity.
Priests. The small Christian community prepares and participates in the celebration of the sacraments thus becoming an image and a sign of the Family of God already gathered and fulfilled. It expresses its hope and joy of expectation in the fullness of God's kingdom through union with Jesus Christ in prayer and worship to the Father. It is a worshipping community because it is a community of hope. The small Christian community is then the sign and sacrament of God's kingdom.
This framework has been also adopted in various parts of Mindanao, in the Visayas and in Luzon.
The BCC-CO program also used this framework. This appears in the program-orientation in 1983:
The thrust of the program is holistic, which means the integration of the threefold mission of the Church: the kingly, the prophetic and the priestly mission...
The kingly mission means that the BCC-CO program is service in nature, which
in the actual realization of the program means:
- assisting people in organizing themselves towards genuine and effective liberation of all oppression,
- creating leadership roles, structures and tasks that will be run in a democratic way (with full participation of all).
The prophetic mission means: a critical attitude of witnessing in line with the Judaeo-Christian values vis-a-vis the historical context now
- formation of the basic Christian values of justice, love, peace, truth,
liberation and an outlook that will enable the people to interpret the signs of
the times correctly
- education of members and leaders with cognitive and effective skills for community inter-action and education
- community oriented activities such as labor unions, health programs, agricultural undertakings for more and better food for all.
-unselfish giving of self in living out in day to day life the convictions of
and the commitment to a liberating Christianity,
-sharing with others those convictions, commitments and life-experiences in liturgical gatherings fitted for the particular community,
-getting deeper insights into the response and practice of worship and prayer on personal and communal levels through prayerful reflections, seminars, consultations with other sismilar groups and communities.
When BCC-CO program was evaluated in 1984, it was reported that the BCC-CO "has carried its kingly, priestly and prophetic mission, thereby facilitating the development of BCCs as servicing, worshipping and witnessing communities."
The KRISKA/BEC program used the "Manual for Formation of BCC Leaders" developed by Manny Gabriel and Emmanuel de Guzman of the Lay Formation Institute. This manual adopts the ecclesiological trilogy:
By virtue of baptism, every Christian receives a concrete charism or gift from the Spirit to fulfill the threefold mission of the Church, viz., kingly, prophetic and priestly... In the development of BCCs, the following have been recognized as important lay ministries:
The kingly charisms of Christians are enhanced in BCC through organization and services. Organization-wise each BCC unit is neither too small nor too big, in order to generate interpersonal relationship and involvement among the members, as they assume various roles and functions in the community. Services in terms of projects and programs are gleaned from and geared towards the social problems and needs of the community. The development of the kingly ministries enables the people to be self-propelling and serving community.
The prophetic charisms of the communities are identified and promoted through the continuing education and formation. The members are trained and harnessed to assume the basic responsibility to know God's Word in the light of their existential realities. This can take the form of prayer meetings, conscientization programs, adult catechesis, leadership and membership seminars. Education and formation in this context will depend on the communities' level of awareness and need-situations.
The development of the priestly charism of the laity is crucial in the theology of BCC. It takes the prevailing interests in BCC to refocus the need to promote anew the priesthood of the laity and their concomitant ministries for worship and prayer ... thereby promoting communities that are self-nourishing and celebrating.
The use of this framework appears to be widespread in the Philippines. It has been used by many dioceses and parishes all over the country and by most of the programs and institutions promoting the formation of BECs - the MSPC, BCC-CO, LFI, KRISKA/BEC, RMT, etc.
This ecclesiological framework is used to describe the nature, mission, structure, activities, charisms and ministries within the BECs. The BECs are priestly, prophetic, servant communities. They participate in the priestly-prophetic-kingly mission of Christ. The structures and activities of the BECs may be classified within this framework: (1) bible-reflection, seminars, catechetics would fall under the prophetic; (2) Liturgical and paraliturgical activities are priestly, (3) socio-economic projects, mobilization for justice, peace and integrity of creation are kingly.
Using this framework provides a holistic vision of these communities. The priestly, prophetic and kingly dimensions are the three essential dimensions of the BECs. BECs are not just bible-sharing groups. Neither are they only liturgical assemblies. Nor are they only socio-economic or political organizations. The BECs are not one-dimensional communities. The ongoing task of BECs is to develop and integrate these three dimensions and grow as priestly-prophetic- servant communities.
Within this framework the social action dimension of BEC formation is primarily but not exclusively located in the kingly nature and mission of the BECs. The BECs are servant communities that work for the realization of the kingdom of God. This is concretely expressed through praxis aimed at social transformation: (a) organizing socio-economic projects that respond to the needs of the poor and the needy, (b) defending human rights and mobilizing for justice and liberation, (c) working for peace, (d) caring for the earth by protecting the environment and struggling for the integrity of creation. These activities appear as concrete responses to the situation of poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and the destruction of the environment.
The Church of the Poor
The vision of the Church that has received much emphasis in PCP II is that of the Church of the Poor. This emphasis is justified by the situation of widespread poverty in the country. The section on the Church of the Poor is one of the longest. There are twelve paragraphs that describe what it means to be a Church of the Poor.
The PCP II is very much aware that the Church in the Philippines is not yet truly a Church of the Poor - it is called to be a Church of the Poor. It is in the process of becoming a Church of the Poor. It is in the BECs that the Church of the Poor can become a reality.
The image of the Church of the Poor was first proposed by John XXIII on his radio message a month before the opening of Vatican II:" Confronted by the underdeveloped countires, the Church presents herself as she is and wants to be: the Church of all, and in particular the Church of the Poor." In his intervention during the council, Cardinal Lercaro proposed that the "Church of the Poor" be the central theme of the Vatican II. Although his suggestion was not accepted there is an implicit reference to the "Church of the Poor" in Lumen Gentium 8. This text points out that the Church must follow the example of her poor and suffering founder. The phrase "Church of the Poor" was taken up during the Asian Bishops' Meeting in Manila in 1970. The FABC afterwards continued to promote this image of the Church.
The appropriation of the vision of the Church of the Poor by the BECs developed much later. While most of the earliest BECs in the Philippines were organized among the poor, the conceptualization of the BECs as an expression of the Church of the Poor only began emerging in the late seventies and become more widespread a decade later.
In 1979, the prelature of Infanta adopted as its main thrust the building up of the Church of the Poor. This meant identification with the poor, building up the local church among the poor and through the poor. This thrust was to be implemented through the building up of communities of the poor (the BCCs) within the local church.
During the Inter-BEC consultation in 1986 organized by the KRISKA/BEC service office the Church of the Poor was regarded as new model of being Church emerging from the poor and making an option for the poor. An emphasis was given to the empowerment of the poor.
In the 3rd Inter-Regional BCC-CO Convention in 1986, the theme of the Church of the Poor appeared. This was express in one of the resolutions:
Whereas, the Church of the Poor as concretely symbolized by the Basic Christian Communities commit to continue witnessing to the reality of justice and truth, love and peace that genuine freedom and democracy will truly reign in this our land.
The PCP II teaches that the BECs can concretely realize the vision of the Church of Poor. It is in the BECs that the poor can truly experience what it means to be Church:
"Usually emerging at the grassroots among the poor farmers and workers, Basic Ecclesial Communities consciously strive to integrate their faith and daily life. They are guided and encouraged by regular catechesis. Poverty and faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for justice, towards a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy.
In the BECs the poor are not just the object of the Church's ministry or preferential option. They become active subjects or participants in the Church's prophetic, priestly and kingly mission.
In these communities the Gospel is proclaimed to the poor and the poor proclaim the Gospel. The poor are not only evangelized, they also become evangelizers. This happens every time they gather for their regular bible-service in their chapels, or hold bible-reflection in their homes, in their farms or even in the barricades. The poor become prophetic when they learn to break the "culture of silence" and begin to speak out against the situation of injustice and oppression. They become prophetic when they are able to announce the Good News of liberation.
In the BECs the poor are not merely recipients of aid or charity from the clergy, religious or from the more well off members of the Church. The poor actively participate in the struggle for social transformation. They are able to organize socio-economic projects (e.g. cooperatives, income generating projects, community based health programs). They are able to defend their rights and work for justice and liberation. They can be mobilized to work for peace and put an end to the spiral of violence. They promote the integrity of creation as they struggle against those who are destroying the environment. Thus, they are empowered to respond to the situation of poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and the destruction of the environment.
Archbishop Quevedo sums up very well what it means for the BECs to be a concrete expression of the Church of the Poor:
The PCP II vision of the Church provides us with an ecclesiological framework for understanding BECs and the place of the social action dimension in their formation. This framework has already been shared by many dioceses, programs and institutions that are promoting BECs. Thus, it provides a holistic vision of the BECs: that they are communities of disciples that concretely realize the vision of a renewed Church as communion participating in the mission of Christ as a priestly-prophetic-kingly people and as a Church of the Poor. This vision requires that BECs be involved in social transformation. Yet the question remains: why is it that the social action dimension is not present in many BECs? Is it because this vision remains on paper or in the minds of the BEC promoters and not owned by the members of the BECs? Is it due to lack of skills and technical support necessary for implementing this vision?
The book of Proverbs (28:19) reminds us: Where there is no vision, the people perish. The vision of what kind of communities we are trying to build is important not only for the BEC promoter and organizers but also for the leaders and members of the BECs themselves. The dream or vision has to be owned by the BECs. It is this vision that provides the direction of growth for these communities, that moves them to action, to make new initiatives and take risks. It is this dream that provides dynamism to the BECs. If they do not have this vision the BECs will stagnate and remain liturgical assemblies or bible-sharing groups incapable of transforming their communities and the Philippine society.
The vision or dream is, of course, not enough. The BECs will have to be provided with the necessary skills and support to translate the dream into a reality. On their own, the BEC promoters and the parish priests can not adequately fulfill this task. This is where collaboration with other groups is needed: with NASSA, the social action centers, NGOs, People's Organizations, etc.
We come together during this National Consultation representing various regions, programs and institutions that promote the formation of BECs. In the past there was a climate of suspicion and competition among the different groups and programs. There were so many things that seemed to divide us: approaches, orientation, terminology (whether BECs or BCCs). Since the holding of the second Plenary Council of the Philippines a different climate has prevailed. I believe that what is bringing us together is the common vision of a renewed Church and an awareness that we are forming BECs in the service of the local Church. Our common task is to help make the PCP II vision of a renewed Church a reality in the BECs - and thus, build up the active mass base of the Church that can help transform Philippine society.