Pope Francis’ ecclesial dream and the Basic Ecclesial Communities

Pope Francis’ ecclesial dream and the Basic Ecclesial Communities

“I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.”  This is one of Pope Francis’ dreams for the Amazon region in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia (QA).  One of the means for realizing this dream is through the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) which Pope Francis mentions in QA 96:

“Base communities, when able to combine the defence of social rights with missionary proclamation and spirituality, have been authentic experiences of synodality in the Church’s journey of evangelization in the Amazon region. In many cases they “have helped form Christians committed to their faith, disciples and missionaries of the Lord, as is attested by the generous commitment of so many of their members, even to the point of shedding their blood.”

This echoes the final document of the Synod on the Amazon which refers to the BECs as “a gift of God to the local Churches of the Amazon” and the “pastoral foundation of many parishes” and urges them to “missionary discipleship.” They are called to participate in “shaping public policies” and to “struggle so that the slums, favelas and villas miseria have fundamental rights to water, energy and housing guaranteed, and promote good citizenship of integral ecology.” (no. 36)

According to Pope Francis, “the challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.” (QA 94) In the BECs, this dream of a “specific ecclesial culture that is distinctive lay” can become a reality. It is also in the BECs that women can exercise a more active role in various new ministries including leadership positions.

Since the Eucharist cannot be celebrated regularly in remote communities, BECs usually have regular liturgical celebration of the Word of God and other forms of worship presided by lay leaders. As Pope Francis writes: “it is not simply a question of facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist. That would be a very narrow aim, were we not also to strive to awaken new life in communities. We need to promote an encounter with God’s word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service that call for a process of education – biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical – and a variety of programmes of ongoing formation. (QA 93)”

The situation of the Church in the Amazonian region is similar to other regions in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Like the Amazonia, there are many remote communities in parishes in the Philippines facing ecological crisis and vulnerable to disasters caused by climate change. These communities can only be visited by their parish priests once or twice a year.  Yet the existence of BECs in these areas have enabled the Church to thrive. Led by lay leaders the members of these communities gather every week in their homes and chapels to share the Word of God, pray together engage in social action. Even if they cannot celebrate Mass as frequently as they wish, they are aware of the risen Christ’s presence in their midst.  They care for the poor among them and they care for the environment. They act collectively to respond to the problems that they face. Some communities have been at the forefront in the struggle to stop logging and engage in reforestation projects. Others have been active in the efforts to stop mining operations and resist the construction of coal-fired power plants. Others have adopted alternative source of energy such as solar power. There are communities that have declared zones of peace amidst armed conflict. Other communities have adopted poverty-alleviation projects. There are many BECs that are able to respond to disasters caused by climate change. The BECs are indeed communities of missionary disciples and the members actively participate in the Church’s prophetic, priestly and servant mission. They are the Church of the poor, the Church at the grassroots. The ecclesial dream of Pope Francis for the Amazon is already a reality in many parishes where BECs are flourishing.

Thus, the promotion and revitalization of BECs is a key strategy in addressing the ecclesial crisis as well as the ecological crisis that need to be approached from below. The BECs can have an active part in renewal of the Church, in carrying out new evangelization, and in the promotion of justice, peace and the integrity of creation.