Basic ecclesial community
Basic ecclesial communities, also called basic Christian communities, small Christian communities, is a Christian movement. Some contend that the movement has its origin and inspiration from Liberation Theology in Latin America. Many regard the emergence of the movement as part of the concrete realization of the communitarian model of the Church (as Communion and as People of God) promoted by the Second Vatican Council. The communities are considered as a new way of "being the Church" – the Church at the grassroots, in the neighborhood and villages. The earliest communities emerged in Brazil and in the Philippines in the late 1960s and later spread to Africa, Asia, and in recent times to Australia and North America.
During the early years of their existence, some BECs, especially in Latin America, were suspected of being influenced by Marxism due to their involvement in social and political concerns and their identification with liberation theology. However, that is not completely true. The BECs were not meant to reject or supplant the existing church structures but to make it possible for ordinary Catholics or lay-faithful to experience the Church as a community and to actively participate in the life and mission of the Church. The vision of a renewed Church that Vatican II spelt out in the conciliar documents Lumen gentium and Gaudium et spes was to be realized in the BECs.
In the BECs, the members are called to live in communion with the Triune God, with one another, with their pastors. They actively participate in Christ's prophetic mission by listening to the Word of God, proclaiming it and giving witness to it. They are called to announce the message of total salvation, peace and justice. They are to denounce evil and all its manifestations in society – the idolatry of wealth and power, violence, injustices, the culture of death.
The ordinary faithful are enabled to exercise the common priesthood by actively participating in the liturgical celebrations. They participate in Christ's kingly mission by their loving service to others especially the poor and the needy, They work for justice and peace and social transformation. Thus, in many parts of the world, BECs are referred to as prophetic (evangelizing), priestly (worshipping) and kingly (serving) communities echoing Vatican II's vision of the Church as People of God.
Pope Paul VI gave a critical analysis of basic communities in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. He made a clear distinction between two different kinds of basic communities. The one kind of basic community calls itself a "charismatic community" while setting itself up outside the Church (and thereby seeks to exist independently from the institutional structure of the Church). Paul VI's primary warning is that by failing to explicitly place themselves in the bosom of the Church, “their main inspiration very quickly becomes ideological.” In contrast to these communities, Paul VI praised “those which come together within the Church in order to unite themselves to the Church and to cause the Church to grow.” Pope John Paul II likewise issued many cautionary remarks to these communities and to the priests who are charged with their pastoral care. “The dangers to which this new form of community structure is easily exposed are well known, but there emerges especially, and above all, that danger of considering itself a unique way of being Church, and, consequently, the tendency to detach itself from the institutional Church in the name of simplicity and of the authenticity of a life lived in the spirit of the Gospel.“
In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed that BECs are "centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach... [They] are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, a solid starting point for a new society based on a 'civilization of love.' [BECs] decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united. They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor, and of commitment to the transformation of society... [They are] a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries." He also quoted the Synod of Bishops, who said BECs "if they truly live in unity with the Church, are a true expression of communion and a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are a cause for great hope for the life of the Church." (RM 51). In spite of such encouragement, there was a decline in base communities in Latin America during his long pontificate, attributed to his appointment of more conservative bishops. Pope Francis' pontificate is seen as a reversal of this trend, and a revival of the church of the people. He sees BECs as frequently bringing "a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed.
Developments in Asia
The BECs through the years have been accepted in the mainstream of the Catholic Church. Besides the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC) has endorsed the promotion of BECs all over Asia. So also have the Bishops Conferences in Africa promoted the BECs which they refer to as Small Christian Communities.
In the Philippines, the formation of BECs has been adopted as the pastoral priority of the Church throughout the country. In 1991, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines decreed: "Basic Ecclesial Communities under various names and forms – BCCs, small Christian communities, covenant communities – must be vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation in both urban and rural area" (PCP II article 110). The council directed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to "issue an official statement on BECs, on their nature and functions as recognized by the Church, making it clear that they are not simply another organization. This official statement of the CBCP shall be, among other things, for the proper orienting of priests and seminarians. Training for work with BECs shall be made part of seminary formation." In 2007, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) established the Episcopal Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities with the task of assisting the dioceses in the promotion and formation of BECs.
- Alberto Rossa, CMF, ed. (1983). Basic Ecclesial Communities: The Stand of Third-World Bishops. Quezon City: Claretian Publications. pp. 1–26, 75–82.
- "Apostolicam Actuositatem". Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Vatican. Archived from the original on 2015-06-25.
- Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi Archived 2013-03-02 at the Wayback Machine, 58.
- John Paul II, “Address to Members of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy”, 20 October 1984 [translated into English from the original Italian].
- John Paul II. "Redemptoris Missio". Apostolic Exhortation. Vatican. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
- "Latin America Today: Base communities, once hope of church, now in disarray". natcath.org. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
- Wilkinson, Tracy. "Analysis: Pope Francis uses Latin American trips to recover soul of the Catholic Church". latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-07-22.
- "Evangelii Gaudium : Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World, 29". w2.vatican.va. 24 November 2013. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
- Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (1991). Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II). Makati: CBCP.