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Basic Ecclesial Communities – Part 1

Introduction

Society, particularly western society, has witnessed a paradigm shift - from the community to the individual. The glorification of the individual has, over the last few decades, led to the breakdown of supportive community structures. This phenomena is also slowly, but surely, being replicated in the East and is clearly manifest in India today.

However, the human heart longs for relationships and for some order and sense in these relationships. These longings cannot be trampled upon. The human spirit survives. Thus in country after country, over the last 50 years, we see a resurgence of a variety of community movements. The Church on its part has recognized this need; not surprisingly in diocese after diocese, both in the West and the East (India not exempted), we see a growing awareness that the Church of tomorrow is in the making through small Christian communities, called as such or by some other name. The vast riches of the Church can also be seen in the mushrooming of a variety of other community experiences both within and outside the Catholic Church. COUPLES FOR CHRIST (CFC) is one such community experience. Born in the Philippines, it has spread to over 71 countries in the 18 years of its existence. In India, it operates in the (arch)dioceses of Mumbai, Vasai, Goa, Belgaum & Pune.

Small Christian Community And Associations

The Spirit blows where he wills. Small Christian Communities are the work of the Holy Spirit. They have sprung up at the grassroots. Their forms, like the Spirit, are diverse. Dioceses now choosing Small Christian Communities as a pastoral priority have a variety of models to choose from: the South American (Brazil or Venezuela or Chile) models, the Mexican model, the French model, the South African (Lumko) model, the Philippine model, etc.

Most dioceses in India today have opted to follow the Lumko model or create their own model taking off from the Lumko model. Several dioceses had earlier unsuccessfully attempted implementing other models (mainly South American). There is nothing wrong in adopting a particular model or even adapting one to suit local pastoral conditions.

On the contrary, there is merit in doing so. However, given the Catholicity of the Church, it is unlikely that any one model will suffice. Our God is a God of infinite variety! Yet, One! And the Church as the Sacrament of God in the world is also a Church of variety. This variety is manifest in the Church globally. It is also manifest in each local church. I am proposing that the local churches in India consider yet another model: COUPLES FOR CHRIST.

Many working in Small Christian Communities (SCCs) find it difficult to accept this as a possibility. This is not surprising. The stereo-typing of associations/movements by those working for sees leads most to perceive associations/movements as pastorally passe. The laity can now get directly involved in Church work by being church in SCCs. There is no real pastoral need for associations except perhaps in an interim way.

However, the very nature of the Holy Spirit, calls for the existence of a variety of associations each with their own charism. The temptation to sacrifice diversity at the altar of unity in sees is very real. It needs to be put behind us. Besides, several associations and movements of today have a vision and philosophy that is community based. COUPLES FOR CHRIST is one such movement.

Though small Christian communities came into existence before 1983, the Code of Canon Law (1983) does not speak of them. As such the exact juridical relationship between sees and parishes is not yet clear. Accordingly, CFC in most (arch)dioceses is eventually set up as a private association of the Christian faithful with canonical recognition under Canon 299 and often juridic personality under Canon 322. This recognition helps establish the credentials of CFC. Such canonical recognition should not come in the way of accepting CFC as a form of small Christian community.

What Is A Small Christian Community?

In order to examine whether COUPLES FOR CHRIST may be considered as a valid expression of a Small Christian Community, we need to measure it against some established criteria of the latter. Below you have a description of a Small Christian Community and a view of the basic community of CFC.

SCC Is A Group

  • consisting of about eight members (max. 30)
  • usually related to a specific area/neighborhood
  • (with emphasis on people rather than place)
  • which links up with similar groupings to form a community of communities
  • whose members believe in, and are committed to Christ
  • whose members strive to share all aspects of their lives
  • who relate deeply to one another, giving witness in their unity to the harmony in the Trinity
  • that are anchored in the Eucharist, word of God, prayer, reconciliation and reflection
  • for whom leadership is a matter of animation, coordination and facilitation and whose decisions are made through dialogue and consensus
  • who are a leaven quietly at work among the people
  • who reach out from the reality of their unity to further the kingdom of God and its justice through mission (action) in the world who make an option with the poor and live simply as Jesus did.

CFC Household Is A Group

  • consisting of between 5 to 7 couples
  • usually related to a specific area/neighborhood
  • (with emphasis on people rather than place)
  • which links up with similar households to form units and then a chapter forming a network of communities
  • whose members believe in, and are committed to Christ
  • whose members strive to share all aspects of their lives
  • who relate deeply to one another, giving witness in their unity to the harmony in the Trinity
  • that are anchored in the Eucharist, word of God, prayer, reconciliation and reflection
  • for whom leadership is a matter of animation, coordination and facilitation and whose decisions are made through dialogue and consensus
  • who are a leaven quietly at work among the people
  • who reach out from the reality of their unity to further the kingdom of God and its justice through mission (action) in the world
  • who make an option with the poor and live simply as Jesus did.

According to Rev. O'Halloran there are three essential elements to the life of the small Christian communities: (1) bonding, (2) contemplation, and (3) reality. These three elements correspond very closely to the three ingredients of each household meeting: (1) fellowship, which translates to enjoying the presence of the brethren, (2) worship, or enjoying the presence of the Lord, and (3) life-sharing, or getting real about our lives in the light of the gospel. In the light of the above, a very good case could be made for viewing CFC as another model of Small Christian Community. However, before we do so, let us consider some other issues.

Group Vs. Community

Below are the following differences between a group and a community:

A Group

  • has a specific purpose
  • has homogeneous membership
  • is temporary, assembles for a purpose and disbands when its objective is achieved
  • does not require its members to relate in depth
  • is not, generally, a priority for its members

A Community

  • has broad interests
  • is heterogeneous in composition
  • by its nature tends to be long-term or permanent
  • has, as its objective, deep relationships among members
  • is a priority for its members

Anyone who has taken part of in the Christian Life Program of CFC or is familiar with the extent of CFC's life, particularly through what it calls its Ministries, will immediately see that the above description of a community fits COUPLES FOR CHRIST.

Other Issues

Some of the other aspects of the life of successful SCC’s include:

  • ongoing formation,
  • a sense of process that involves taking people where they are, challenging them to grow and encouraging them to create the environment of love and acceptance that alone makes growth possible,
  • a simple Rule of Life (whether explicit or implicit) to provide focus
  • action, which, in the first place, means, simply being what they are, living out the faith and extending the kingdom of God by that simple process; it would also involve a variety of activities that go to sustain the life and mission of the community and its members.

Again it is as if he was describing COUPLES FOR CHRIST. Consider, as I do, CFC to be yet another expression of Small Christian Communities.

Continue to Part 2

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