The Basic Ecclesial Community of Cabanbanan (Cebu):
A Case Study
Fr. Amado Picardal, CSsR
Number and Gender Make Up
There are 35 families in Cabanbanan. All the members of these families are considered as members of theBEC. There are three BEC cells within the community. Each cell has 7 to 12 members. Most of the members of these cells are women. There are 2 to 3 men in each cell.
A cell for young people has recently been formed and it is made up of 17 teen-agers. The majority in the cell are young women.
The members of the community are very poor. Many of the men used to work in the mines. Some of the women used to sell food and snacks to the mine workers. However, after the closure of the mining operation, some of the men went back to farming while others work in the city as construction workers. Most of the men who work outside come home once a week, on Saturday afternoons and go back to the city on Monday morning. The women are mostly housewife, while others help out in the farm.
Frequency of Gathering
The community is decentralized into cells. Each cell has a regular weekly activity which is the MaKaLiPang. This is a combination of reflection/sharing on the word of God, discussion of their problems and looking for solutions, and prayer. During this session the members of the cell also talk about the progress of their income generating project. The people consider this as the most important activity of the cells.
The whole community gathers every Sunday in the chapel for the Kasaulogan sa Pulong or the celebration of the Word. The people receive holy communion from the lay minister. There are usually 20 to 40 people who attend this liturgy.
All the cells come together once a month for the visitation done by the members of the follow-up team.
The parish priest celebrates the Eucharist with the community at least three times a year.
Patterns of Leadership
The community has a Presidente who is regarded as the over-all leader of the community. However, since the structure of the community is highly decentralized into cells and each cell tends to operate as a BEC, the role of the Presidente is very limited . The only time the Presidente exercises her leadership is when the fiesta is coming or when the chapel needs repairs. The whole community is consulted in all major decisions affecting the community.
Each cell has its own set of officer: the cell leader (the Alagad), the assistant (the Kaabag), the secretary and treasurer. It is the Alagad that exercises a leadership role. She makes sure that the cell meets for the MaKaLiPang. Everyone participates in the decision-making process.
It is the parish priest that sets the over-all direction of the BECs and cells in the parish. Thus, many of the major decisions and policies are made by the parish priest and this is communicated to the full-time parish staff, down to the follow-up team that meets that cells during the monthly visitation. The leader of the cell is responsible for implementing the decisions of the parish priest and the staff. There is there a top-down pattern of leadership.
Relationship to the Parish and the Diocese
The archdiocese of Cebu in 1986 had adopted the program of building Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). A BEC secretariat was set up which assisted the parishes in the formation of small Christian communities. However, not all the parish priests were receptive to the idea. Out of 138 parishes, the BEC program was implemented in only 14 parishes that were considered as priority areas or pilot areas.
The program of building BECs and cells in the parish was started in 1998 after the appointment of Fr. Mike Hisoler. Fr. Hisoler sought the assistance of the BEC secretariat especially in giving orientation seminars to the various communities in the parish.
The BEC secretariat also helped set up the parish cooperative. Those who attended the BEC orientation seminars were asked to attend the pre-membership seminar of the cooperative.
Fr. Hisoler encouraged the newly-formed BEC cells to engage in income-generating projects in order help the people improve the standard of living. The parish lent money to the cells for capital. The cooperative also provided credit to its members to finance their projects. After 3 years, 80% of the cells have income generating projects. There are various projects that the cells have started: mini-cooperative stores, food processing (tocino and sausage-making), candle-making, coffin-making, bakery, hollow-block making, pig dispersal, etc. Majority of these projects are doing well and the cells have already paid their debts to the parish and the cooperative.
In the formation of the BECs and the cells, the parish priest is assisted by the parish formation team. There are 14 persons who make up this team. They are all volunteers and they are the ones that go around the communities to give seminars. There is also a follow-up team composed of 32 volunteers. They divide among themselves the communities and cells that they monitor and visit.
The parish priest and the parish teams meet all the leaders of the cells and the BECs once a month – every second Sunday from 2-5 pm. This is the time for their on-going formation.
The formation and growth of the BECs in the parish depend on the initiative,
support and leadership of the parish priest together with the parish formation
team and the follow-up team.
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR
April 25, 2002
A Letter from the Basic Ecclesial Community of Cabanbanan (Cebu)
May the joy of the Risen Lord be with you!
We are a basic ecclesial community in Cabanbanan, Lutopan, Toledo City, province of Cebu. Cebu is one of the major islands in the Visayas, Central Philippines.
Cabanbanan is a small hamlet on top of a mountain, near the mining area of the Atlas Mining Company. The company stopped its operation in 1992 due to labor unrest and an impending bankruptcy.
In 1999, our parish priest,Fr. Mike Hisoler, sent the parish formation team to our place to conduct an orientation seminar about theBEC. This was attended by over 30 people. The seminar started in the morning and went on until late in the evening. There were many topics that we discussed: the situation of our country, God’s dream for humanity, the Church, the BEC as a new model of being church, the process of reflecting on the Word of God as a community, etc.
After the seminar we were divided into 3 selda (cells) with 7 to 12 members each. The cells were called Birhen sa Fatima (Virgin of Fatima), Inahan sa Kanunang Panabang (Mother of Perpetual Help) and Birhen sa Medalla Milagrosa (The Virgin of the Miraculous Medal). Each selda elected its own leader (alagad), assistant (kaabag), secretary and treasurer. The whole community also elected the Presidente sa Katilingban (the president of the small Christian community).
The members of the Parish follow-up team visited us occasionally and encouraged us to meet regularly to reflect on the Word of God. Thus, every week each cell comes together for the MaKaLiPang. This is an acronym for Maayong Balita (good news), Kasinati-an (Experience), Lihok (action), Pangamuyo (prayer). This describes the process of our weekly gathering. There is time to listen to and reflect on the Good News. This is followed by the sharing of our experiences in the light of the Word. Then we discuss any concrete problem and plan how we can act together to help solve the problem. And we end with a prayer. The weekly gathering of each cell has brought the members of the cells closer to one another. All the cells and members of the community also come together every Sunday for the Bible-Service in our chapel. A lay minister from the parish comes to lead the liturgy and give us communion.
The members of the follow-up team meet the whole community once a month for the visitation. The members of the three cells gather in the chapel to pray and reflect on the Word of God. After this, the members of the team inquire from the people what is happening to their cells and the problems that they have encountered. Then we draw up plans that will help in the development of the cells and the BEC.
In 2000, Fr. Hisoler encouraged all the BEC cells in the parish to engage in incoming generating activity and livelihood program. The parish multi-purpose cooperative was organized and we were invited to a pre-membership seminar. Many of our cell members attended this seminar and learned how to start income generating projects.
After the seminar, the cells started their own income generating project. The Birhen sa Fatima cell decided to start a community consumer cooperative store. The members were able to start with only a capital of P2,500.00. After more than a year, the asset has gone up P50,000.00.
Our store is able to help the members of the community by selling basic commodity goods at a lower price. The members who are in need can also borrow money from the store. Out of the common fund, the community was even able to help other communities in the parish that were in need (e.g. when some houses in a neighboring small Christian community were burned down).
The parish priest celebrates the Eucharist with the community two to three times a year. The most recent one was on the occasion of our fiesta. This was the time when almost all the members of the community gathered in the chapel to celebrate our union with Christ and with one another. After the mass, we had a banquet inside the chapel and shared the food that we brought. So, as a community together with our parish priest we gathered around the table of the Lord to share not only the body of Christ but also our boiled rice, roast pig, and fried chicken.
We end this letter by sharing with you our reflection on the Gospel of the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Lk 24:13-35)
The story of the journey of the disciples towards Emmaus is also our story. Like the disciples, we journey through life full of suffering, sorrow and grief. We suffer due to poverty. We grieve because of the sickness and death that we witness around us. We sometimes wonder: where is the Lord?
But we do not journey alone. We walk through life with others. We journey as a community of disciples and friends -- as cells and as a small Christian community. We are companions on the journey. As we do this, the burdens that we carry become lighter. We face the difficulties together. We carry our load together.
In our journey through life as a community of disciples, there is also someone who accompanies us although we do not always recognize his presence. Jesus, the risen Lord, walks with us. When we gather to reflect on the Word of God, it is the risen Lord who makes us understand what the Good News is all about. When we gather around the table of the Lord to break bread – to share his body and share our food—we recognize his presence in our midst.
Mrs. Regina Enciso – Presidente sa Katilingban (President of the Community)
April 14, 2002
(this letter was drafted in English with the help of Fr. Amado Picardal)