Today, Pope Benedict XVI will formally step down as pope. One of his most fascinating ideas is the Church becoming a creative minority which I believe can be appropriated for Basic Ecclesial Communities. I would like to share this article which I wrote for my regular column in the CBCP monitor, published this week:
BECs as Creative Minorities
Before he was elected pope, Benedict XVI already envisioned a Church that would act as creative minority, appropriating the idea of the historian Arnold Toynbee:
“Here we must agree with Toynbee that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, and help Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and to thereby place itself at the service of all humankind.” (Ratzinger & Pera, Without Roots).
This idea was already present in his book (Faith and the Future,1971), when he chose the image of a mustard seed for the Church: “Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world – that let God in.”
He again referred to this term during an interview as he was on his way to Prague in 2009 for a papal visit: “it is the creative minorities that determine the future, and in this sense the Catholic Church must understand itself as a creative minority that has a heritage of values that are not things of the past, but a very living and relevant reality. The Church must actualize, be present in the public debate, in our struggle for a true concept of liberty and peace.”
The pope used this term as a prognosis for how the Church whose membership has become a minority in Europe should act in face of secularism and de-Christianization. The clergy, lay organizations and renewal movements would have an important role in this.
In his broad historical study of major civilizations, Arnold Toynbee observed that the growth and transformation of many societies depend on creative minorities whom the majority eventually follow. This is similar to Vilfredo Pareto’s 20-80 principle or the law of the vital few: the 20 percent of any group or institution account for 80 percent of the effect. Thus, 80 percent of our efforts should be focused on the 20 percent that can make a difference.
This is how the Church should function according to Benedict XVI. While this can be applied for the Church in Europe, is this also applicable for the Philippines where Catholics make up the majority?
I believe that the concept of “Creative Minorities” is relevant in our country. Although 81 percent of the population are Catholics, the majority are either nominal or seasonal Catholics. There is a tiny minority – around 15 percent – that are active.
There is no need to despair as long as the small percent of those who are active act as “creative minorities.” This means that they live as genuine disciples of Christ in community. Having undergone conversion and filled with dynamism they actively participate in the Church’s prophetic, evangelizing mission, in the work for justice, peace and social transformation, and give witness by their holiness of life.
The lay organizations, renewal movements and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) have a vital role to play as creative minorities in the midst of a Christian majority who are mostly nominal and who need to be evangelized.
Since, 1991, the PCP II and the CBCP have promoted the growth of BECs all over the Philippines. In most of the dioceses and parishes in the country, there are already BECs. The parishes are becoming networks of small Christian communities or BECs. The percentage of Catholics actively involved in the BECs are still small but they function as creative minorities – as light, leaven and salt, or as the mustard seed. In them, the ordinary lay-faithful, including the poor members actively participate in the life and mission of the Church.
Over the decades the BECs have made a difference in making the Church fully alive and contributing to the transformation of society. These communities have been engaged in renewed evangelization in the neighborhood communities and villages. Many of these have introduced programs to alleviate poverty (sustainable agriculture, livelihood projects, cooperatives, micro-finance, etc.). In response to the armed conflict, there have been BECs involved in peace advocacy -- in the establishment of peace zones or spaces for peace. There are BECs that have defended the environment through their efforts to stop logging, mining and coal-fired power-plants. There are also BECs involved in campaign for good-governance and political education. Other BECs are involved in pro-life campaign and introducing Natural Family Planning methods and responsible parenthood. Their numbers may not be significant yet but they are growing and are already making a difference. Thus, in the BECs, Benedict XVI's vision of the Church as a creative minority is being realized at the grassroots, in the neighborhood and the barangay. As we say good-bye to our beloved pope, we will remember his ecclesial vision of the creative minority as one of his legacies.