This morning, we reached another milestone of sorts in our parish’s BEC Project. For the first time, those who have been actively involved in promoting the growth of basic ecclesial communities in parish talked about the present status of the cell communities they are helping sustain. Our cell groups have come from different directions and are only now coming together under our PREX BEC Project. The goal that we have set before us is “a cell group in every street”. It is a goal that translates into practical terms the Church’s mission of evangelization: to build up the reign of Christ.
Most of what was talked this morning were already said in more informal conversations. What was notable is that the idea of the basic ecclesial community — the right one — is gaining ascendancy over ideas that identify the BEC with bible study groups. While some sort of bible study is being done in cell meetings, the study of the Bible is not the BEC. One of the problems we face as a group is the concept of the role of Scriptures in the BEC where it is paramount. When BECs were established in remote rural areas in the 60’s the reading of the Scriptures were a preparation for the reception of the eucharist administered by lay ministers. Catechists and lay workers had the role of preparing the people to understand the Scriptures as a venue of encounter with the Word of God which addresses itself to them every day of their lives. It was not then a question of learning what was Paul’s idea of the kingdom of God as contrasted with that found in the Gospels, or how David was punished because of his adulterous liaison with the wife of one of his soldiers. Those who attended those meetings — called “cell meetings” because it was a meeting of “cells of the church”, the families — listened to the Scriptures, the explanations of the catechists and applied the message heard to their lives.
This encounter of the simple folk with the Word of God is hard to replicate in an urban area where people think they already know and understand the Scriptures. In contrast to the first members of the BECs — mountain dwellers, fishermen, poor farmers living in places that the parish priest can only reach once every few weeks — parishioners in the urban area are most often educated and sometimes more educated than the parish’s catechist or lay minister. In addition, since the 1970s, urban dwellers have been exposed to bible prayer and study groups. In contrast to the uneducated farmer and fisherman who approach Scriptures with the question: “What does the Lord want of me today?”, urban parishioners approach with a different set of questions in mind. Indeed, the hungry will react to a passage like “I am the Bread of Life” differently from one who just had a big slice of pizza.
Another problem we encounter in an urban BEC is the existence of religious organizations. These were not present when the BEC was first introduced in the rural areas of the 60’s. In fact, the basic ministries of a parish in remote places derived from the cell communities. In an urban parish, services have been provided by religious organizations who see themselves as having specific tasks in implementing the projects of the church where they belong. The introduction of the BEC in the urban setting therefore have given rise to a lot of misunderstandings about its nature. There are some who see it as another organization. Or as happened in our parish, it was thought to be a means of helping the poor in the squatters’ area, some sort of social work to which the Bible is integrated. There are even some who see the BEC as a threat to the very existence of religious organizations! In this sense, urban parishioners will have to be re-educated in that the nature of religious organizations assume a particular image of the Church and understanding of the “holy life”. The mistake would be to make these images and paradigms of sanctity as absolutes. Urban parishioners will have to learn that there are alternatives to these that are perhaps better but — in keeping with the Church’s catholic nature — not exclusive
We still have a long way to go in terms of re-educating our parishioners but we have been building up the means to do it. The first is the strengthening of our PREX program which has now become the parish’s official agent for the ongoing formation of our parishioners. Second is that the PREX program is now linked to the BEC project through the BEC Training: “Basic” for new graduates, and “Advanced” for the more “proficient” ones. The fact that most members of religious organizations in our parish are graduates of the PREX is a plus in our attempt at transforming our parish into the mother church of cell communities of faith, hope and love and not just an overall organization that brings together members of religious organizations and anonymous parishioners within a jurisdiction.
A report in Filipino of the meeting held this morning is found here.
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