Rev. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD
Since 1971, the MSPC has promoted the formation of BECs in Mindanao. After twenty-seven years and nine MSPCs, we are still faced with these questions: What really are BECs? What's actually happening to our BECs? What should be done to foster their growth?
One of the objectives of this conference is to come up with an updated understanding of BECs. We need to clarify and deepen our understanding of BECs especially from an ecclesiological perspective. Our vision affects the shape of the BECs we are building. An inadequate vision or understanding can lead to the stagnation of BECs and confusion among those who are trying to form these.
Besides coming up with an updated understanding of BECs, we need to compare the vision with the reality of the BECs and come up with some concrete course of action. Our vision is an idealized portrait of the communities we are trying to build. It is prescriptive rather than descriptive. It is a dream that we are trying to transform into a reality. The vision needs to be translated into concrete strategy.
So I would like to share with you an ecclesiological vision of BECs and some prescriptions or recommendations that could be helpful in promoting their growth.
I. A Vision for BECs
In the recent past there was a controversy about what terminology to use: BEC or BCC? Since PCP II, the generally accepted term has been BEC - Basic Ecclesial Community. BEC is a generic term that refers to the communities of faith that have emerged at the grassroots. As PCP II decrees:
What is the significance of this term - BECs or basic ecclesial communities?
Community - the use of word community emphasizes the communitarian nature of the BECs. These are not groups, societies or associations but communities - local communities whose members live together and interact with each other regularly. Thus, mandated organizations (like KofC, Legion of Mary), renewal movements and their local branches (Charismatics, Focolare, CFC, Catechumenate, El Shaddai, etc), cannot be considered as BECs.
Basic - the word basic refers to both the size and the social location of the BECs. The BEC are small communities. A basic community is small enough for the members to know each other well and relate deeply as friends but not too small that it turns into a primary group or barkada instead of a community. The term basic may also refer to the social location of the BECs - they are at the grassroots, at the base of society, among the poor and the least.
Ecclesial - the word ecclesial emphasizes the ecclesiality of the BECs. They are a way of being Church - the Church that is realized, localized and experienced at the grassroots, in the neighborhood. The BECs are not just administrative units within the parish - they are indeed the microcosm of the Church. Whatever can be said about the Church in general may also be used and appropriated for the BECs.
B. The PCP II Vision of BECs
If we are looking for an updated understanding of BECs, the best way to look for it is in the PCP II documents. The PCP II gives us an ecclesiological vision of BECs - which shows us how the BECs are a way of being Church. This can be found in the second part of the document: Envisioning a Church renewed, and the third section entitled: Discipleship in Community: the Church. There is a paragraph (137) that sums up the vision of what it means for the Church to be a community of disciples and links its realization in the BECs:
This vision of the Church brings together under the heading of community of disciples the various ecclesiological themes that have become dominant since Vatican II: (a) the Church as communion, (b) the Church as the People of God participating in the mission of Christ as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people, (c) the Church of the poor.
This vision of the Church can be concretely realized in the BECs. Thus, the
paragraphs that follow (138-139) gives a phenomenonological description of the
BECs which correspond to the PCP II ecclesiological themes:
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.
1. These are small communities whose members are in unity and solidarity with one another and with their pastors. The members have a strong sense of belongingness and responsibility for one another. (This corresponds to the vision or model of the Church as communion).
2. The members share the Word of God and are 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. They share not only their spiritual concerns but also the material. Their poverty and their faith lead them to involvement in action for justice and social transformation. (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 corresponds ot the vision of the Church as church of the poor.)
Thus, from the PCP II vision and description of BECs, we can now have a deeper understanding of the nature and mission of BECs:
The BECs realize the vision of a renewed Church as a community of disciples
Let us go deeper into this vision of BECs and see their implication for the kind of BECs that can grow and develop.
BECs as Community of Disciples
The vision of the Church as community of disciples can be concretely experienced in the BECs. Without the BECs, the communitarian nature of the Church and of discipleship remains an abstraction. In the BECs the ordinary Christians are awakened to their call to live their discipleship fully and actively and in the context of the community.
Being a community of disciples requires that the members of the BECs are united with Christ and with one another. They have a deep personal relationship with Christ and with one another. They are of one heart and one mind. There is therefore fellowship or communion among believers and followers of Christ.
It also means that the BECs are nourished by the Word of God. The members continue to hear the Word and to share or proclaim it to others. Christ continues to be their teacher. They learn from him. The community of disciples is an evangelized and evangelizing community. It witnesses to the coming of God's kingdom. It is a prophetic community that proclaims the message of the kingdom - a message of salvation and liberation. .
As community of disciples, the BECs celebrate the presence of Christ in the sacraments. Christ continues to shape the community through the sacraments. The members actively participate in the liturgical celebration. They gather in the memory of Christ and celebrate the eucharist. They are ready to offer their life in self-sacrifice. BECs are truly a priestly community.
Like Christ, BECs are concerned about the plight of the poor and the needy, those who are sick, who are hungry, who are in prison. They actively participate in building of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace and love. The community of disciples is truly a servant community.
The community of disciples follow the way of Christ who is poor. The members live the evangelical poverty, they make an option for the poor, they empower the poor in their midst to actively participate in the mission of Christ.
Living in Communion
Ecclesial Communion 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 concretely 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. There is a sense of belonging and responsibility for one another. The members can live as a community of friends in the Lord. Communion may be inculturated with the Filipino values of pakikisama, bayanihan, and pakikipagkapwa-tao.
The ecclesiology of communion also insures that the BECs do not become isolated, autonomous and in-ward looking communities. It promotes unity and solidarity with other BECs. The parish itself becomes a network or communion of BECs. The ecclesiology of communion requires that the BECs be united to their pastors and maintain their link with the local and universal Church. Without this linkage, the BECs cannot be considered as a way of being Church.
The sharing of material resources is an essential expression of communion
both in the New Testament and the conciliar documents. This is an ideal that
many BECs are trying to put into practice. Thus, there are many mutual aid
systems and income generating projects designed to help the members who are
needy. Some BECs in the rural areas have set up communal farms. Many have
organized cooperatives. These common undertakings are based on the principle of
pooling of material resources and engaging in economic activities as a
community. They provide alternative values and patterns of behavior for
socio-economic transformation. Instead of fostering values identified with
capitalism such as individualism, selfishness and greed, these projects are
based on Gospel values such as sharing, partnership and communal responsibility.
While these projects have sometimes been classified as non-religious
activities, they are actually concrete expressions of communion - the
community of goods. Through these projects the BECs are able to address the
problems of poverty and exploitation. Through the principle of the common
ownership of the means of production and sharing of resources the BECs can help
create a society where there will be no needy person among them. It will be the
realization of the ideal of the Christian community as described in the
summaries in Acts and an approximation of the Kingdom of God.
BECs as People of God Participating in Christ's Mission as Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly People
Vatican II, especially in the dogmatic constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) links the threefold mission with the image of the Church as a people of God. Accordingly, the Church as people of God is by its very nature a priestly, prophetic and kingly people (LG 10-13). The Church as a whole participates in Christ's prophetic, priestly and kingly mission. The ministry of the hierarchy (the bishops, priests and deacons) are seen as priestly, prophetic and kingly (LG 24-29). Lay people actively participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ by virtue of their baptism and membership in the Church (LG 34, 35, 36). In the Vatican II document on the missionaru activity of the Church, Ad Gentes 15, the communities of the faithful that are to be built up in the mission field are to carry out the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. Thus, the ecclesiological trilogy is the underlying schema for describing the nature and mission of the Church, the ministry of the hierarchy and the role of the laity.
The three-fold nature and mission of the people of God has been appropriated for the BECs in the Philippines. This is the ecclesiological perspective that many dioceses, institutions and programs promoting BECs have in common.
It was the Mindanao- Sulu Pastoral Conference (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 (GKK), these communities were characterized as witnessing, worshipping and serving communities (masaksihon, maampoon, maalagarong katilingban).
The PCP II has appropriated the vision of the Church as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people and see its realization in the BECs.
The BECs actively participate in Christ's prophetic mission. They are prophetic communities. They hear, proclaim and witness the Word of God. They are evangelized communities and evangelizing communities, learning and teaching communites, witnessing communities. The tasks of evangelization and catechesis are part of this prophetic mission. It also involves denunciation and annunciation. (1) denouncing sin and evil in society (e.g. the idolatry of power and wealth, injustice, oppression, the culture of death), (2) announcing the message about the coming of God's kingdom - a message of salvation, of justice, peace and liberation.
There are programs and activities that concretely express this prophetic character of the BECs: evangelization seminars, bible-reflection sessions, conscientization or social awareness programs, education for justice, catechetical program (for children, youth, adults), etc. The most regular activity is the bible-reflection session where the members of the BECs gather in their homes or in their chapel to reflect on the word of God and their concrete situation. In the light of faith they discern their concrete response and course of action.
The BECs actively participate in Christ's priestly mission. Thus, they are a priestly people. They are worshipping and celebrating communities. This priesthood is expressed in their 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 activities that express the priestly nature of the BECs are: the weekly bible-service held in the chapel (Kasaulogan sa Pulong, Katilingbanong Pag-ampo), prayer meetings in the homes, the monthly or bi-monthly mass, the celebration of the other sacraments ( baptism, matrimony, penance), the fiesta celebration, popular devotions (novena, rosary), the rituals for planting and harvesting, etc. The BECs can continue to worship and celebrate even in the absence of the priest.
The BECs actively participate in Christ's kingly mission. Since this kingly mission is expressed in service, the BECs are serving communities. They participate in making the kingdom of God a reality in this world by promoting peace and justice, integral development and liberation, and the integrity of creation.
There are activities and programs that express this kingly/servant nature of the BECs: (a) socio-economic projects that respond to the needs of the people - livelihood projects, cooperatives, communal farming, organic farming, community-based health program, appropriate technology, etc. (b) ecology campaigns: anti-logging, anti-dam, anti-mining, reforestation projects, etc. (c) promotion and defense of human rights (d) voter's education and working for clean and honest election (e) peace-building, establishment of peace zones, Muslim-Christian dialogue, etc. (f) protest action against government policies (VFA, charter change, etch.). The kind of activities that the BECs undertake depend on the concrete situation and needs of the people. Through these activities, the BECs can become instruments of social transformation.
The prophetic-priestly-kingly nature of the BECs should be regarded as a
triad. Using this triadic framework provides a holistic vision of BECs. 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.
|Mission/Tasks||Possible Activities and Programs||Ministries/
*catechesis, education, formation
*proclaiming the kingdom of God (the message of salvation, liberation, justice and peace)
*denunciation (of sin & evil and its manifestations: injustice, oppression, corruption, culture of death, etc)
*witness of life
|*active participation in the
*making spiritual sacrifices
*self-sacrifice and readiness for martyrdom
kasaulogan sa pulong
*ritual for planting and harvesting
|* liturgical leaders
kaabag, alagad o
pangulo sa liturhiya
|*service, social action
*working for the kingdom
*responding to the needs of the poor, oppressed, needy and the afflicted
*action for justice, peace, integral development and liberation and the integrity of creation
*working for social transformation
* regular meetings and assemblies, participatory action research
*livelihood programs, income-generating projects, cooperatives
* health program
* ecology campaign
(anti-logging, anti-mining) *human rights advocacy
*peace-building, peace zones, dialogue
*voter's education :PPCRV
*protest action against government policies (charter change, VFA, etc)
*organic farming technicians
*justice and peace advocates
BECs as Realization of the Church of the Poor
The BECs concretely express evangelical poverty, the option for the poor and the participation of the poor in the life and mission of the Church.
1) The BECs as Communities of the Poor
Most of the BECs are found in the rural barangays and urban slums. Most of the members are materially poor. They are like the biblical anawim for whom poverty is a way of life - they are the ones who are hungry, who suffer, who mourn, who easily get sick, who are often harrassed, who go to prison, who thirst for justice, who seek peace. They are the ones with deep faith and trust in God's loving providence. They wait in expectation for God's liberating grace. They are predisposed to the message of the Gospel, the message of the kingdom. Thus, the Christian communities that emerge among the poor can rightly be called the communities of the poor - the church of the poor. In these communities the poor can experience communion among themselves. They experience what it means to be a community of disciples, a community of friends.
This does not mean that membership in the BECs is exclusively for the poor. It just happens that BECs thrive among the poor. Those who are not poor tend to join mandated organizations and renewal movements like the charismatics, Couples for Christ, etc. There need not be a competition or antagonism between the BECs and the mandated organizations and renewal movements. Part of the challenge of the pastoral ministry is to reorient the mandated organizations and movements so that they become supportive of the efforts to build BECs and they make an option for the poor. They have to be encouraged to enter into a dialogue of life with the poor in the BECs, to be in solidarity with them, to share their resources with them, to be one with them in their struggle for social transformation. In doing so they also become part of the Church of the Poor.
(2) The BECs Enable the Poor to Participate in the Life and Mission of the Church
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 pastoral 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-reflections 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, oppression and the culture of death. They become prophetic when they are able to announce the Good News of liberation.
In the BECs the poor can exercise as a community the priesthood of the faithful by their active participation in the liturgy, through their popular religious practices and devotions, in their fiesta celebrations, and in their acts of self-sacrifice and self-offering.
In the BECs the poor are not merely recipients of aid or charity from the clergy, religious or from the more well of members of the Church. The poor actively participate in the struggle for social transformation. They are able to organize socio-economic projects that respond to their basic needs (like 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 by caring for the earth and defending the environment. Thus, they are empowered to respond to the situation of poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and the destruction of the environment.
Bishop Quevedo sums up very well what it means for the BECs to be a concrete
realization of the Church of the Poor: "Truly in the BECs the poor have taken
up their own destiny into their own hands. If the Church is the People of God,
it is in the BECs that this mystery is being realized, lived and acted upon. The
poor, as the Church, are making their own response to their own poverty. This is
the highest form of Church response there is when the poor are no longer outside
the orbit of the Church but they identify themselves as God's people called by
God to march on their own Exodus to liberation."
II. Reality and Recommendations
A. Assessment of the Reality of BECs in Mindanao
After having presented the vision and understanding of BECs, the question that many would be asking is: is this already a reality in Mindanao? Are the BECs truly communities of disciples living in communion and participating in Christ' mission as prophetic, priestly and servant communities? Is the Church of the Poor already a reality in the BECs?
We cannot really give an accurate picture of the BECs in Mindanao since the study commissioned by MISSA is unfinished. In 1995 NASSA made a survey of the BECs in the Philippines which has some data on the BECs in Mindanao. But the matrix and the methodology of the study have been criticized and the findings of the study need validation.
Whatever I have to say about the BECs in Mindanao is purely an impression based on my personal observation, anecdotal evidence, talks with BEC practitioners and extrapolation from existing data.
There are two views about the BECs in Mindanao: one is optimistic and the other, pessimistic. The optimists claim that the BEC phenomenon here is far advanced - that it is already widespread and that most of the BECs are fully developed. The pessimists say that the BEC experiment has failed. Those that have been established have died out or remained stagnant. I believe that the truth lies in the middle.
Based on the 1995 survey of NASSA, out of 450 parishes, only 299 parishes in Mindanao have BECs (66.4%). From the existing data one can deduce that the building of BECs is a pastoral thrust of 12 out of 21 dioceses (59.5%). (This means that in these 12 dioceses the formation of BECs has been accepted as the program in most if not all of the parishes). While these figures are high compared to those of the Visayas and Luzon, one can see that the BEC phenomenon is not that widespread and advanced. In fact it seems to have stagnated considering the fact that after almost thirty years of BEC promotion in Mindanao the number of parishes and dioceses with BECs have not grown significantly. Many BECs that were formed earlier were not able to grow and develop. Some have even died out.
During the last three decades, there have been BECs that have exercised their prophetic function especially under the Marcos dictatorial regime. Suspected as subversives these BECs were often harrassed by the military and they have produced their own martyrs. There were BECs that became truly servant communities: with their own livelihood programs, cooperatives, communal farms, etc. Some established peace zones, others were involved in environmental issues (anti-logging, anti-mining compaigns). During elections, many BECs were mobilized for voter's education and to ensure clean, honest and peaceful elections. Yet these activities were either not sustained or if they were, they were not replicated in other BECs. They have not developed into a critical mass capable of transforming society. The only activity that has been sustained in most of the BECs is the weekly bible-service in the chapel (Kasaulogan sa Pulong, Katilingbanon). This has given the impression that BECs are merely worshipping communities or liturgical assemblies. Even the attendance and participation in the bible-service have gone down.
Thus, looking at the overall picture we can say that the vision of the BECs is already a reality to some communities but in many BECs it remains a dream. In some areas the BECs continue to thrive and grow. In many places there is a stagnation. In other places they have not been established at all. Clearly much remains to be done. Like the Kingdom of God, the BECs appear as an already-not yet phenomena. It is up to us to make this dream a reality in Mindanao. This is the challenge that we face as we enter the third millenium.
After having considered the vision and the reality of BECs in Mindanao, there are some recommendations or prescriptions that I would like to offer:
1. The formation of BECs should be adopted as the pastoral thrust and program of every diocese and parish.
Most of the successful and dynamic BEC programs are those in dioceses that have adopted the formation of BECs as their thrust or priority. It is very difficult to initiate and sustain a BEC program unless it is the program of the diocese and the parish. While the lay people should be relied on to build BECs, the initiative and support of the bishop and the clergy is essential. It is very difficult to form and sustain BECs unless the program is owned by the local church - the diocese. There are many cases of BECs being weakened or suppressed with the assignment of new parish priests who were not supportive of BECs or who were antagonistic towards them.
2. The holistic vision of BECs in PCP II should be owned by those involved in the formation of BECs - the bishops, the clergy, religious, pastoral workers, lay leaders and members of the BECs.
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 BEC promoters 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.
3. Pastoral Formation Teams at the diocesan and parish level should be formed and trained to take responsibility for building up the BECs.
A parish formation team can be very helpful in the formation of BECs. Every parish must have its own formation team and not rely on outside agencies to do the work for them. If a diocesan mission team or formation team is to be formed its primary task is not to organize the BECs in all the parishes. Rather, the diocesan team should help in the training of the Parish Formation Teams.
4. A Renewed Evangelization should be carried out at the grassroots communities as an essential component for organizing and revitalizing BECs.
The organizing or strengthening of BECs require renewed evangelization. BECs organized without evangelization lack dynamism and would be difficult to sustain. The decision to get actively involved in BECs should be the product of conversion effected by evangelization rather than by coercion or sanctions. Evangelization may be carried out at different levels. Family evangelization (house-to-house, visita familia), neighborhood clusters (cells), community level (intensive evangelization seminars at the chapel).
5. The BECs that are big should be subdivided into clusters - BEC cells or family groupings made up of five to ten families.
The cell or cluster system has proven to be effective and sustainable in deepening the relationship and mutual support among the members of the BECs. The BECs can be seen as a network of communion among these cells or family groupings. The cells should not be inward looking or autonomous but should always be interlinked to the other cells within the BEC. A cell is not the BEC but is part of the BEC. While having their own activities, the cells should participate in the common activities at the BEC and chapel level.
6. The BECs should be developed into caring and serving communities - actively involved in the promotion of justice, peace and integral development.
PCP II reminds us that a renewed integral evangelization calls for a renewed social apostolate. The call of the moment is to work for peace and development. The BECs should therefore become agents of peace and integral development. The successful experiences of BECs involved in peace and development should be replicated by BECs all over Mindanao. In areas where the armed conflict continues, the war zones can be transformed into zones of peace and development by the BECs. These communities can promote dialogue at the grassroots level. To deal with the problem of poverty, more BECs should be encouraged to form livelihood projects and multipurpose cooperatives (consumer, producers, credit, marketing, etc). These communities should be trained in participatory action research, resource management, appropriate technology, sustainable agriculture, etc. In areas where the environment is being threatened by mining and logging activities the BECs should be mobilized to defend the integrity of creation. Thus, the BECs should learn to make use of creative non-violent means in transforming society. The program for peace and integrated development should be coordinated at the various levels - parish, diocese, sub-region, region. The diocesan social action center should be tapped especially in helping BECs acquire the skills and funding for their programs. The BECs should also learn to collaborate with NGOs and POs (peoples' organization). Thus, the BECs truly become part of civil society helping transform the Philippine society from below.
7. We should be open to new forms of BECs in the urban areas and adopt more appropriate methods and structures.
Historically, many of the BECs were first set up in the rural areas. By the coming millenium, more and more people will be living in the urban areas. Besides forming BECs in the urban slum areas, BECs are being organized in subdivisions and housing units. Perhaps, new forms of BECs can also be set up in workplaces where people spend most of their waking hours. We should also encourage the members of mandated organizations and renewal movements to become more involved in the BECs . The methods and structures used in the rural areas may not be as effective and appropriate in the urban areas. Thus, we should be more creative in our approach.
As we enter the third millenium we are faced with the challenge to continue the task of renewing the Church as envisioned by Vatican II and PCP II. The formation of BECs is part of the concrete means of implementing the conciliar vision. The renewal of the Church can be effected when BECs are formed and developed. It is in the context of the BECs that the lay faithful, including the poor, can truly respond to the call to holiness and become actively involved in the promotion of peace and integral development. The emergence of BECs is one of the signs of the new pentecost - a sign of the vigorous presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our time. The BECs may be regarded as one of the instruments of the Holy Spirit for renewing the Church and transforming human society.