Saturday, August 11, 2012

Base communities - a pastoral approach that works

Today at a meeting of more than 70 catechists in the Dulce Nombre parish, Padre Efraín talked about ways to involve the more than 600 people being confirmed into new or existing base communities. There could be as many as 40 new base communities in the parish in the coming year!

I have written several times about base communities here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, but perhaps some of my readers don’t know how they function here.

Base church communities – Comunidades ecclesiales de base – have played important roles in the Latin American church, starting in the late 1960s. Yet in the last two decades the number and strength of base communities have decreased, in part because of the growing conservatism of the institutional church in Latin America. The flight of many rural poor to the cities and the increasing role of movements (such as Opus Dei and the Neocatechumenal Way) in the church have also affected the base communities.

Yet here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, in western Honduras, there are more than 4,000 base communities (perhaps as many as 7,000) in the 43 parishes. This is because of a concerted effort of the diocese to promote them since 1992.

Lay involvement in the church is not new in Honduras.  In the mid-1960s the diocese of Choluteca began to train and commission men as delegates of the Word to lead services in the remote villages. That movement spread and there are delegates leading celebrations of the Word in a majority of the rural villages. Now they include women as well as men.

The Santa Rosa diocese has gone beyond this with base communities and several pastoral leaders in almost every one of the 1192 villages in the diocese.

The base communities usually meet every week to pray, read the scripture, and study the faith. The communities also have persons dedicated to the three areas of ministry: prophetic, liturgical, and social. Those in the prophetic ministry include religious education teachers, preachers at the Sunday celebrations of the Word, and persons responsible for seeing that the communities flourish. The liturgical ministry includes those who have roles in the Masses and church celebrations, including the choir, the music groups, and readers. The social ministry devotes itself to fund raising activities, care of the church grounds, help for the needy and more.

Each village has a church council which includes one representative of each ministry from each base community. The village sends representatives to the sector meeting, which reports to the zone, and eventually to the parish pastoral council.

It is through the base communities that much of the pastoral formation of people happens. There are religious education classes for the children as well as pre-marriage talks, but most of the faith gets learned and passed on through the base communities.

The base communities are, I believe, a good way for the faith of the community to develop. They bring together people from the neighborhood to pray and work together. They try to help people grow in the faith.

There are limitations.

 Up to this time I don’t think that there has not been a lot of good materials for the communities to use. There is a good booklet devised a few years ago by a team of priests and lay people in the south of the department of Lempira on the liturgy and sacraments. The booklet on Catholic Social Thought that I drafted is being accepted as a good way for the communities to get to know what the church means by social ministry.

I have heard that some priests have given the base communities the diocesan pastoral plan or church documents to study. I have my reservations about these, since the community may lose sight of the importance between their lived faith life in community and concentrate too much on the cognitive aspect of faith. In addition, some of these documents are extremely dense – even for me – and difficult for people, many of whom have little formal education. We desperately need good materials, with a good methodology, for these communities.

Another possible limitation is that in this diocese participation in a base community is often a prerequisite for reception of the sacraments. For example, typically babies are not baptized unless their parents participate in a base community and couples are not married in the church unless they too are in a base community. So the community becomes a hoop to jump through for some people – not a way to deepen faith.

Another possible limitation is that the base communities may be too linked to the hierarchical structure of the church and therefore too dependent on the priest, especially if he is a domineering type.

José Comblin wrote in  Called for Freedom: The Changing Context of Liberation Theology:

The impact on evangelization [of base ecclesial communities - CEBs] was always limited…
First, it has not been possible to overcome clericalism, because CEBs have remained predominantly subordinated to clerical control in their ideology, theology, mentality, structure, and in their everyday activity. Secondly, they continue to have two ideologies: a medieval dogmatic theology and a liberation theology for the social realm. (p. 6)

But base communities are, I believe, extremely important and pastoral work, especially in rural areas, would suffer greatly without them. The base communities evangelize and help make people better disciples and missionaries. I don't know if the people in the countryside would be so articulate and knowledgeable of their faith without them and I doubt that they would live their so well.

1 comment:

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

A clarifcation: The Third diocesan Pastoral Plan (approved in 2011) does make a change in which people involved in the process of the formation of base communities can receive some sacraments after significant catechesis without being members of a completely formed base community.