The coming out of Basic Ecclesial Communities in any form in different parts of the world including the Philippines is undeniably a phenomenon of which our Church Leaders ought to accept and must face head-on. There is no turning back; the call for an “aggiornamento” (John XXIII 1962) inside and outside the Church is indispensable for the good of the people. The Philippine Church must transform to an emerging Church of the future, “the Church from the grassroots,” (John Burdick and W.E. Hewitt 2000) if genuine renewal is a serious agendum of every bishops throughout the archipelago in each of their ecclesiastical territory. They are now challenged to be more cognizant of and participative on this paradigm shift in the Church, which is totally tangible after the Second Vatican Council. Basic Ecclesial Community Globally
It was in the late 50’s when the Church through the leadership of Pope Pius XII was bothered by the subsisting pastoral context in Latin America. The Church was faced by a throng exodus of Catholics to Protestantism and socialist-inspired trade unionism. What was the response of the Church? The Church created a pastoral strategy namely:
(1) Form several small units of parishioners from a large parish;
(2) Ensure formation and participation in each block;
(3) Even if priests are in shortage Christianity remains vibrant (CELAM 1955).
It was first implemented in the Diocese of Barro do Pirai in Brazil in the late 50’s with the help of Don Angelo Rossi and the lay catechists of the diocese. In the early 60’s, it spreads like wild fire throughout the neighboring countries of Latin America. It was called “Communidades Christianas de Base” then “Communidades Ecclesiales de Base”. This moved was recognized by Conferencia Episcopal de Latina America (CELAM 1955) and replicated in other countries after the second Vatican Council. In the late 60’s it continued to exist even after the threat of Protestantism and Socialism had been neutralized by Second Vatican Council (Batangan, 2011).
BEC in the Philippines
Here in the Philippines, it was introduced in the 60’s first in Mindanao by foreign missionaries (Sr Guarte, OP, 2000); it was called in various names like the Kristohanong Kasilinganan or Kristiyanong Kapitbahayan (KRISKA); the “Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK)” (Ebol, Cubio & Ledesma S.J., 2000), the Basic Christian Community and the recent one The Basic Ecclesial Community (PUEBLA 1979). All were influenced by the Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) of 1971, 1974 and 1977 (Bp Gutierez & Buenaobra, 2000). Although the reception was remarkable in the rural areas, however the authoritarian government of President Ferdinand Marcos read it as a threat to the new order of society – “Ang Bagong Lipunan” (Cresencio Butron, 2000).
So members and propagators of BECs were oppressed by military men of the then President, but the fire of hope remained into the hearts and souls of BEC organizers. Anyways, it lasted in the early 80’s. However, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), in the early 90’s continued the spread of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in the country (Fr. Amado Picardal 2011), following the encyclical of the late Blessed John Paul II, when he said that BECs are “signs of vitality in the Church … a cause of great hope for the Church and a solid starting point for a new society based on the civilization of love” (RM #51).
On the other hand, the advent of Second Plenary Council of the Philippines re-echoed the words of Vatican II in January of 1991, the total promotion and formation of BECs all over the country (Fr. Picardal, 2000), when it announced that “our vision of the Church as communion, participation and mission, about the Church as priestly, prophetic and kingly people, and a Church of the poor, that is a renewed Church, is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement, that is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities” (PCP II, 137).
What are BECs?
BECs are small Christian communities, usually of families from rural areas or barangays or a small village, who gather around the Bible and the Eucharist. These communities are in solidarity to their parish priests but are ministered to regularly by lay leaders. The members are intimately linked to one another; they know each other by name and share not only the Bible and the Eucharist but also their concerns both material and spiritual. They have a strong sense of belongingness and of responsibility for one another (PCP II, 138).
Typically, BECs are coming from the grassroots; from among the poor farmers and workers in the countryside. The members consciously struggle to integrate their faith and their daily life. They are led and supported by ordinary catechesis. Poverty and their faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for justice, and towards a lively celebration of life in the liturgy (PCP II, 139)
Indeed, BECs are a new way of being a Church, because the vision of the Church can be realized only in BECs.
The primary mission of BECs as a way of being a community of disciples – a worshipping, witnessing and serving communities, people of God, and the Church of the Poor is the promotion of full Christian life that is over and above “maka-Diyos, maka-bayan, maka-kapit-bahayan, maka-buhay at maka-kalikasan” (Sr. Regina Cobrador, SPC, 2000).
The BECs in a Catholic School
Saint Paul University (SPU) of Tuguegarao, the only Catholic University in the province, experienced the building of Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) in the depressed areas of the Archdiocese. According to Sr. Regina Cobrador, SPC, that it was something peculiar in the sense that an educational institution was getting involved. It was a concrete response to the challenge of PCP II when it said that “Catholic Educational institutions are among the most necessary and potent means of evangelization” (PCP II, 623) Besides, Catholic Schools should not only prepare the young people for Christian Community living but provide them with solid experience of Christian Community (PCP II, 636).
In her case study submitted to the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Claretian Publication and to NASSA – Caritas Philippines, she narrated her experience on how Catholic Schools can contribute to the mission of the Church to promote and form BEC for evangelization. It was not more of creating one inside the school but as a partner of the parish in re-evangelizing the people in poor Barangays of the Archdiocese.
Sister Cobrador, SPC believes that a university cannot isolate itself from the mission of the Church, since it is a “potent agent” of evangelization inside the Church. In the program of SPU the students, faculty and administrators had a first hand experience of being in a community – that is immersion, thus, instilling into them the values of Christian service and genuine concern to the marginalized and less privilege sectors of their community (Sr. Regina Cobrador, 2000).