Part I: The National Gathering of Diocesan BEC Directors and Coordinators

DFC1, Covered Court, Impalambong, City of Malaybalay
November 28, 2016 (Monday)
Opening Mass Homily by Bp. Honesto Chaves Pacana, SJ

Honesto Ch. Pacana, DD, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Malaybalay

Today we are happy to witness the gathering of diocesan Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) coordinators and directors representing the different churches of the Philippines. Sharing the common experiences and concerns of our BECs will hopefully lead us to learn more from one another towards enriching our respective communities. Some concerns to be addressed and discussed at length may include:

  • The many challenges that the BECs are facing from within and from without.
  • The ways and means that our BECs will face these challenges in the future.

I would like to reflect on the theme of this conference—‘ Forming BECs as Agents of Communion, Participation and Mission”– in the light of the twofold calls of a disciple or a Christian.

First, the call to live in communion. As a community of disciples, we are called to live in unity and to build community . This is the command of the Lord to live and love one another as Christ loves each one of us. Each of us baptized Christian is called to live in communion with one another which means to live as a community of disciples who serve and love one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord, all belonging to the same one family with God as the Father of all.

Second, we are called to be men and women for others – which means like the Church which is missionary , the Christian community is to be on mission called to reach out to others beyond the boundaries of our small communities, beyond the confines of our fellow disciples to others: the strangers, the marginalized, Christians of another religion, non-believers, the poor, the insignificant, the weak , the powerless, and so on.

Our various small Christian communities are to grow into a deeper awareness that each member is a child of God, a beloved son and daughter of God, loved by God the Father so immensely that he sent his only son to save them to, to save each one of us. In gratefulness for what the Lord has done for each of us, we are called to love him in return. To know him more intimately, to love him more ardently and to follow him more closely.

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) refers to Christians as a community of disciples. This is not an easy task considering our tendency to be self-centered, to look first into our own needs, and interest. The truth we have the inclination to focus our attention first on our own personal concerns before those of others. We must always be reminded of our call to help build communities. There are obstacles that prevent us from living united and in communion with the Lord and with one another. Pope Francis points out what some of these obstacles are.

In addressing the pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square, the Pope says: “In a Christian community division is one of the most serious sins, because it does not allow God to act. What God wants is that we be welcoming, that we forgive and love each other so as to become more and more like Him, who is communion and love. . . . we affirm in the Creed that the Church is one and that she is holy. . . . let us pray and examine our consciences and ask forgiveness for the times when we have given rise to division or misunderstanding in our communities, and may our relationships mirror more beautifully and joyfully the unity of Jesus and the Father.”

One other problem that we encounter in building Christians into a community is the loss of interest on the part of the members. Sometimes participation leaves much to be desired. One reason for this is that sometimes the leader/facilitator just lacks the necessary skills on how to conduct faith sharing sessions. As a consequence, the number BEC members dwindle and in some cases the BEC itself goes dead.

Another important concern to reflect upon is that, in building Christian communities we need to be inclusive going beyond the narrow confines of our parish and small communities to reach out to others. In the Gospel just read, we see Jesus reaching out to the need of a pagan, a Gentile, a person despised by the Jews at the time and looked down upon as despicable creatures, as dogs.

“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” ‘He said to him’, “I will come and cure him.” As Christian communities we are called to be men and women for others, reaching out to the unchurched (baptized but non-practicing Catholics), those who are poor and marginalized, the insignificant and powerless, the oppressed. We called to take a stand in defense of the those who are victims of injustice. In other words, to take a stand in defense of the little people whom Jesus likens to children. We are communities on mission , we are called to be persons oriented to come to the aid of anyone in need. What this all means is that our BECs, and the Parishes must, like the Church, also be on the state of mission.

In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 29), we read “evangelization is a duty of the whole Church, of the whole People of God: we all must be pilgrims, in the countryside and in the city, bringing the joy of the Gospel to every man and woman. I wish from the depths of my heart that the words of St Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16) do not define me.

In the light of the Exhortation above, Pope Francis tells the participants attending the 13th Interecclesial Meeting of the Basic Ecclesial Communities: “Therefore. . I invite everyone to experience it as an encounter of faith and of mission, as missionary disciples who walk with Jesus, proclaiming and witnessing to the poor the prophecy of a “new heaven and a new earth”.

Let us continue our journey of faith as communities in the spirit of joy just like what the exiled Jews felt then when they returned to Jerusalem even as they faced many problems and opportunities.

Isaiah in his prophecy predicts people streaming into Jerusalem as a sign that God wants all men to be saved and to live in peace. In the words of the Prophet the time will come when “The branch of the Lord will be luster and glory.” And another passage the Prophet predicts that God will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshare and their spears into pruning hooks Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore. (Is 2:4)

It is hoped that our BECs become effective instruments of peace and for drawing others closer to Christ so that the words of the Prophet Isaiah will be realized among families, societies, nations in conflict and peace will come.

Some Questions to ponder:

  • Is the building BECs a priority concern in your parish or diocese?
  • How do you understand this statement? The BEC is a way of being Church?
  • Are the people of your parish or diocese becoming more participative and more involved in issues that concern justice and human dignity in the society at large?
  • What do you do to sustain, nourish and strengthen the BECs in your respective dioceses?

In this opening Eucharistic celebration, may we receive the gift of listening so that we can all profit much from this conference. We have plenty of time to listen to the different resource persons as they share their expertise and as we listen to one another’s experiences in building Christian communities in the parishes.

May the Lord continue to be with us and bless us as we move on to build Basic Ecclesial Communities in our respective dioceses, parishes and communities.

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Homily of Bishop Crispin Barette Varquez

Photo Credit: China Radio International

November 8, 2013; the strongest typhoon in the world that made a landfall, hit our area in Eastern Samar. There were 247 who died from the typhoon and most of those who died were drowned by the storm surge. People did not understand the term “Storm Surge”, that is why people did not evacuate from their homes. Akala nila simple lang na waves.

2014, December 7; another super typhoon hit our area super typhoon Rubi. So, because of their experience of the super typhoon Yolanda people moved out from their homes along the coastal areas because of the storm surge warning. They were forced to evacuate to the high areas. Many of them, our neighbours, moved to the Bishop’s residence. There were almost a thousand people who went to the Bishop’s residence for safety before the arrival of the super typhoon Rubi. The people were forced to organize themselves and stay in one place.

And for two days and one night, we were living as one community at the Bishop’s residence. Yan pala ang mangyari kung ang isang pamayanan ay nalagay sa panganib. They were forced to organize as one community to protect themselves from danger. And I believe that is part of our human nature, na pagka mayroong mga panganib we look for other people and to stay in one place with one another to feel safe. Aside from that, emotionally, you are strengthened by the presence of other people around you. Forced by circumstances, there was communion of individuals, families, and neighbors at the Bishop’s Residence. By force there was a communion of communities at the Bishop’s residence for two days and one night. And that was BEC by force. So again, I believe, this is part of our human nature—we become more confident when we are with other people kaysa mga hayop ang kasama mo, mga aso, baka, kalabaw at iba pa. That was also the experience of the early Christians. When they experienced persecution, they organized themselves to give support, to strengthen themselves, to pray together, and to share something to others. We can read that in the Acts of the Apostles.

One time I met people from Vietnam in Orange County in California. They were praying outside the church facing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding a child. So I was curious as they were praying in Vietnamese. I talked to one man and asked him, “Brod, ano po ba yan? Yung ano na image yan?” He explained to me, “Bishop, alam mo? During the persecution of Christians in Vietnam, the Christians were moving out from the city to the mountains. Then, in the middle of the forest, they made noise to drive away wild animals to ensure their safety throughout the night.”

And while they were creating noise to drive away wild animals, they saw an image of a lady holding a child. They called it Our Lady of Labang. Labang is a Vietnamese word which means noise.

Lady of Labang literally means Our Lady of Noise. Like the early Christians experience of the persecution, the Vietnamese experience of coming together was to create a stronger bond to preserve their lives, protect their children, to be strong as one. I believe this is our motivation why we organize our people according to BEC. Not only to respond in their spiritual need but also to preserve their lives; to preserve their faith; and to grow in the love and hope in the Lord.

In the Philippines, we did not experience much persecution, except in the southern part of Mindanao. However, there are many termites in the Church today. Little by little, they eat up the faith of our people. Pope Emeritus Benedict VI called this the future of secularism; the future of individualism. This ideology slowly destroys the Church. To respond against these termites, we have to be passionate in organizing our people to protect them. We have the challenge to preserve the faith of our people.

I would like to quote the pastoral exhortation of the CBCP last July 2016 which says, “In celebrating 2017 as the year of the parish, as communion of communities we are challenged to more deeply discern, not only the structure of governance in our diocese, in our parishes, but also of the purity of faith, like in the parish.” With this, the bishops and priests should be directly involved with the people. This is strengthening fellowship, belongingness and participation experienced by the members of the Church.

Last Sunday, before leaving Boronggan, coming here in Malaybalay, I went to one barangay to commission all the chapel leaders who organized BEC. After the Mass, because it was their first time to see a bishop, almost all people came and asked for pictures. “Bishop kami na naman” “Kami na naman Bishop.” The joy and excitement of the people was so inspiring. They feel that they are important part in the Church. This simple gesture of being with them made them feel that they are in fellowship with the leaders of the Church. After the Mass, delicious dinner was served. The joy that I feel being with the people is more than enough reward for me. I told them, “tonight pwede na akong mamatay.” Brothers and sisters, I shared this because I am convinced that if BEC is the pastor’s thrust of each diocese in the Philippines, the bishop should lead the effort. If the BEC of the diocese is alive, all other commissions will function, then the faithful rejoices in communion. The people will feel that they are part of the Church. With this, we will journey together as a Church in hope and love of God.

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