BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES: A MEETING POINT OF ECCLESIOLOGIES MARCELLO DE C. AZEVEDO, S.J.
Gregorian University, Rome, and Centro Joào XXIII, Rio de Janeiro
Latin as verified in Tthe final documentAmerica,Third Generalthe reflection underlying of the Assembly of the Latin American Bishops that was held in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979, is directly HEOLOGY IN
related to the reality of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs in English; CEBs in Portuguese and Spanish). Hence that theology offers a valid set of instruments for their analysis and interpretation. The same can be said of the various theologies of liberation. Although in one or another version they may not dovetail exactly with the theological frontiers of Puebla, liberation theologies are a meaningful and important way to approach and understand BECs. WHAT ARE THE BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES?
For the sake of precision, let me make clear what BEC means in the context of this article. The currently so-called Basic Communities, Basic Christian Communities, Grassroots Christian Communities, or Basic Ecclesial Communities in different parts of the world share some common and fundamental features. However, at the present level of ecclesiological awareness as it is mirrored in the specialized theological literature, we can hardly talk about the current phenomenon of BECs in a general, univocal way. They are a diversified reality from which we can draw an analogical concept. They offer a certain unity in their diversity. Even within a more homogeneous scenario such as Latin America, there are significant differences between the BECs in Brazil, in Peru, in El Salvador, or Nicaragua, for instance, which prevent us from talking of them without further specification. To write on the BECs in a scholarly fashion, therefore, we need a concrete point of reference. Here this will be the BECs in the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil. From such a specific point of reference it is possible then to relate to other analogical cases. I do not pretend to give a clear-cut definition or even a description of the Brazilian BECs. This would deprive them of one of their fundamental traits, namely, flexibility, openness to change and to reverse patterns, something which is very much linked to real life. Let me make explicit some of their major characteristics. First, they are communities. They are trying to set a pattern of 601
Christian life which is deliberately in contrast with the individualistic, self-interested, and competitive approach to ordinary life so inherent in the Western, modern-contemporary culture. As a result of their own unfolding evolution in the last 25 years or so, BECs in Brazil have been aiming at living the two dimensions of communion and participation. By stressing communion, the BECs want to live faith not as a privatized but as a shared, real experience which is mutually nurtured and supported. Such a deep level in faith sharing is at the roots of an attempt to improve interpersonal relationships within the community. This then makes possible the dimension of participation especially in the decision-making process, in contrast with a rather passive attitude of the faithful or a too vertical orientation in exercising power or authority by the clergy or by the laity. Secondly, the BECs are ecclesial. The catalysts of this ecclesiality in the Brazilian BECs have been the unity in and of faith and the linkage to the institutional Church. Even when BECs are ecumenically oriented, experience has proven that the sharing of a specific, common faith was a crucial element for fostering the internal growth of the community. This is particularly important because of the paramount significance of the Word of God and biblical-prayer sharing in BECs life. By linking themselves to the institutional Church, BECs want to reverse the confrontational and/or hostile approach to the hierarchy that used to be a hallmark of...