How Your Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) Can Grow Amidst the Pandemic
by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia
This COVID 19 pandemic has given us sorrows and joys.
In our parish community, sorrows have come in the form of the absence of basic necessities like food, decent work, and some financial concerns. There has been a common cry for ayuda (aid).
But we have also experienced great joy as this pandemic has also ignited our social action services to the poorest of the poor on the parish level and on the BEC level.
When the very first enhanced community quarantine started, our parish office received many letters from barangay officials and particular families requesting for ayuda. When you give to a group, another group will also be asking. Unfortunately, some would demanding in a negative way. The need has been really high. There were times when people were flocking even into our parish building. They were requesting for ayuda which we cannot give immediately for pastoral reasons.
On the other hand, one of the greatest joys is the opportunity to respond to these realities.
There has been a consolation on the level of the parish community and basic ecclesial communities because their relationship was enriched through the social action services they have rendered towards the needy. The Basic Ecclesial Communities, which we will call BECs, were also the ones delivering these help to those in need within the grassroots level.
Sustainable Community Pantries
In response to the requests for ayuda, along with our Community Pantry at the parish, we now have 5 out of 10 Sustainable Community Pantries within our BECs.
Last year, the parish community was able to give 14 waves of ayuda to the poorest of the poor in view of the enhanced community quarantine. This means 14,000 ayuda from the parish corporal works of mercy fund. Some donations were also from generous benefactors.
This year we are still giving but now it is limited to those who are listed in our poorest of the poor document. Fourteen poorest of the poor families have been adopted by the parish community. We call them as “Pamilya ni San Roque” which aims an integral assistance to these families. We now have regular livelihood sessions for our Parishioners who seek income and jobs.
Allow me to share two points of reflections on BECs of San Roque Cathedral Parish.
First, our BECs developed.
According to Claver, there are three stages of BECs. The first stage is the liturgical level. This is the stage wherein the community participation is strongly expressed in its prayer life. The priority of this kind is the spiritual life expressed in worship particularly in the sacraments and sacramentals of the church.
The second stage is the developmental level. This means the BECs go beyond the liturgical aspect for they strive to translate their prayer life towards social action. This level highlights social action.
The third stage is the liberational level. This means that the BECs are able to make themselves a true circle of discernment wherein there is a reflection from the problems they are facing.
Our BECs were highly liturgical before the pandemic. This means they are active when it comes to the sacraments and sacramentals of the church, i.e., our BECs have been responding to the liturgical needs of our parishioners at the grassroots level.
But in view of this pandemic, they have been able to reach the developmental level, the second stage of BECs.
In other words, our BECs are at the developmental level because they were able to render liturgical celebrations in the online and physical manner. We were able to celebrate Aguinaldo Masses and regular Sunday masses in selected areas with doubled attendance of mass goers and lay servants in the area level. The social action services to the poorest of the poor are also rendered as they are collaborating with the parish community. However, they are not yet on the level of the liberational stage but as their priest, I can state that they are on a journey to attain the highest level.
In this aspect, we can see these BECs are moving forward.
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines or PCP II teaches that to move forward is our Christian Identity. Moving forward means loving each other with Christ’s love and living one’s life with His life. To cease moving forward is to betray our identity as Catholics. (PCP II D 34)
I must admit that in the first weeks of the strict lockdowns within our area, I was expecting that the participation of our lay servants from the parish and the BECs would be lessened much.
But I was wrong, it is in these difficult times, the pandemic, that we are ignited to move forward as a community of faith. Despite the desolations that we are facing, the body of Christ is alive in our BECs because it is moving forward.
One learning I had is whenever BECs are responding to the signs of the times particularly to the problems of times, if they are guided by their pastor accordingly, they will surely develop as a community of faith.
Second, BECs build relationship.
In our parish context, BECs were observed before as a bagsakan ng gawain, areas of liturgical celebrations, recipients of ayuda, and totally dependent on the parish level. But this pandemic has developed from these mindsets. Development is evident in the relationships that these communities were able to build and deepen.
PCP II defines BECs as small communities of Christians, usually of families, who gather together around the Word of God and the Eucharist. These communities are united to their pastors but are ministered to regularly by lay leaders. The members know each other by name, and share their concerns on both material and spiritual aspects. They have a strong sense of belongingness and of responsibility for one another. (PCP II C 138)
In many ways, our BECs were able to establish their responsibility for one another because of new and deepened relationships. It is a fact that the parish community sends ayuda to them.
But it is also a fact that these BECs were sensitive at their grassroots level to the point that they rendered social action service independently from the parish.
These BECs were also able to build relationships with the poorest of the poor.
Another consolation from these pandemic is that we were able to gather a database of the poorest of the poor within our areas. On the other hand, they were able to befriend generous benefactors within their areas.
These benefactors are not extremely rich. I can claim that some of them are also poor and some are in the middle class. They are giving because they know what they give will reach the needy.
I remember one benefactor with whom I was confused because as she gives generously she also asks me to pray for her economic standing. I was able to ask her politely about this matter but she explained, “Father kasi... diba hindi ka naman nagbibigay hanggat di ka umaaray? Kaya magbibigay ako kahit may aray.” This brought me to a realization: Si Hesus hindi lang nagbigay ng may aray... si Hesus ay nagbigay ng buong buhay.
Our BEC leaders gained an amount of respect in these areas because they were the ones facilitating their spiritual and moral needs in a sense. I remember vividly when I visited two of our BECs to give ayuda to the poorest of the poor. There were claims that our leaders could be a sure winner in the next barangay officials elections because of their active presence.
In general, this pandemic made our BECs build relationships. Relationships ad intra were developed because one’s charism was ignited. The sum of all their charisms made them a developed BEC. Relationships ad extra were also deepened. This is seen in partnerships from one BEC to another, in collaboration with barangay officials, local police force, and with the lay servants at parish level.
These relationships are made for the continuous building up of the Church at the BEC level. It is also a personal consolation for me, because I was able to befriend most of the barangay officials within our territorial jurisdiction.
This year as we celebrate the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines and as well as the 30th anniversary of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, it is my prayer that our BECs continue to develop.
PCP II C 137 teaches that the vision of the church renewed is expressed on BECs.
Professor Dagmang would also claim that it is by way of the BECs that the quality of a parish nowadays is to be measured.
A great gift to God as we celebrate this jubilee year is a developed BEC.
Are you active in your BECs?
If yes, continue to do so.
If not yet, consider exploring the way of being a church in the Basic Ecclesial Community.