(I have a regular monthly column at the CBCP Monitor entitled Along the Way. I am posting here what will be published in the next issue)
During the National Gathering of Diocesan BEC Directors held last October 11-12, 2011 in Taytay, Rizal, the result of the initial survey on the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in the Philippines was discussed. One of the findings was the vital role that the clergy, especially the parish priests, play in the promotion and formation of BECs. Where the clergy adopt the formation of BECs as a pastoral priority and support the lay pastoral workers and BEC leaders, the BECs become vibrant. In dioceses and parishes where BECs fail to grow or develop, the lack of support from the parish priests is considered as one of the primary factors. The regular reshuffling of priests can have a negative effect on BECs especially when the new parish priests are not as supportive as the previous pastors. In dioceses where the formation of BECs has been adopted as the diocesan pastoral thrust, the implementation still depends on the parish priests. The findings of this survey is consistent with the results of previous surveys conducted over the last 10 years.
Why is the support of the clergy necessary for the growth of BECs? PCP II regards the BECs as a realization of its vision of a renewed Church – the Church as the community of disciples, living in communion, participating in the mission of Christ as a priestly, prophetic, kingly/servant people, and as the Church of the poor (PCP II no. 137). The BECs are not mere lay organizations or associations, but the Church at the grassroots, in the neighborhood, barangay or the village. They are a new way of being Church. Hence, PCP II decreed the vigorous promotion of BECs in all dioceses and parishes all over the country (PCP II art 103). This means renewing and restructuring of the parish into a network of BECs, a community of small Christian communities.
Since the BECs are a realization of a renewed Church, then a renewed clergy is required. Since BECs are a new way of being Church, then a new way of being priest is necessary. The renewal of the Church requires the renewal of the clergy. This means going beyond a narrow cultic understanding of priesthood. To be a priest is not simply to say Mass and administer the others sacraments.
Vatican II and PCP II have broadened the understanding of the ordained ministry. “Hence, we can appropriately call ordained ministers as servant-leaders of the community. They are in-charge of the community. They are to build-up the Christian community. Their task extends by right also to the formation of a genuine Christian community.” (PCP II no. 518).
The ordained ministry is, therefore, oriented towards forming and leading a genuine Christian community that is prophetic, priestly and kingly in nature – a witnessing, worshipping and serving community. The role of the priest is not simply a matter of celebrating communion during the Eucharist but building up communion (loving union, sharing and fellowship) among the members of the community in their day to day life. Thus, according to PCP II, the priest is a servant-leader who presides over a prophetic, priestly and servant community.
The formation of BECs is therefore a constitutive part of the ordained ministry. Our parishes are too big to form one community. They have to be decentralized and restructured into a community of communities, a network of BECs where the ordinary lay faithful can truly experience communion and actively participate in Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and servant mission.
Through his prophetic ministry – a ministry of preaching, evangelizing and catechizing, the priest animates the parish community and BECs to become prophetic and evangelizing communities that announce the Good News and denounce evil and all its manifestation (including the culture of death).
Through his liturgical and sacramental leadership, the priest enables the parish community and the BECs to actualize their common priesthood and actively participate in the liturgical celebration.
Through his kingly/servant ministry, the priest animates the parish community and the BECs to become truly servant communities actively involved in the Church’s social mission and apostolate – caring for the poor and the needy, working for peace, justice and the integrity of creation. This requires an option and love for the poor and living a more simple lifestyle.
All these require good pastoral leadership and management on the part of the priest. Collaboration and teamwork with other priests, lay pastoral workers, lay leaders and religious is necessary in the pastoral ministry. The priest is called to be a Good Shepherd – who forms and leads the flock. This demands availability and closeness to the people he is ordained to serve. This also requires getting rid of patterns of leadership condemned by Christ- of lording it over the flock, of authority exercised in the spirit of self-service, power, privilege and prestige. This also demands a moral and ethical leadership that does not tolerate clerical abuse.
The understanding of ministry that the Vatican II and PCP II promote is not easy to realize. It requires continuing conversion and ongoing formation of priests. But this is necessary because without a renewed clergy, the vision of a renewed Church advanced by Vatican II almost 50 years ago and reaffirmed by PCP II 20 years ago will remain a dream.