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Building a church of communion, participation and mission

Basic ecclesial communities are the ideal way to let the laity participate actively in church activities

Father John Baptist Tran Huu Hanh

Father John Baptist Tran Huu Hanh

Published: November 29, 2021 03:47 AM GMT

Updated: November 29, 2021 08:18 AM GMT

Building a church of communion, participation and mission

Catholics attend Mass in a church under construction in Muong Cat Parish in Hoa Binh province on Nov. 22. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

The 21st century is of the laity, but laypeople in Vietnam remain extremely quiet. Due to the influence of Confucianism, most laypeople hold the clergy in considerable respect, and consequently they play an essentially passive role in church life, waiting for clergy to tell them what to do. They lack creativity and take a minor part in activities.

This is a serious omission for which the primary responsibility falls on the local clergy. It is also due to Confucianism that the clergy often look down on the laity, assign few tasks to them, and pay little attention to training them to become collaborators and sharing responsibilities with them.

Apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia states that it is the laity above all who are called to transform society, in collaboration with bishops, clergy and religious, by infusing the "mind of Christ" into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the secular world in which they live.

In Asian churches today, the Holy Spirit is prompting Christ's disciples to live and bear witness to unity in local churches, especially at parish level, to build up a participatory church where bishops, priests, religious and laity are in communion, sharing, cooperation and co-responsibility in the mission of evangelization.

There is a need to change the mentality; first of all, the widely held views about the laity, from treating them like collaborators of the clergy to accepting them into real co-responsibility in awareness and church work, and promoting mature and ardent laypeople in this regard.

Cooperation and co-responsibility are understood as equals, discussing and implementing together. The Asian Church must be a participatory one in which no one is left out in the cold.

BECs encourage public participation and utilize all the skills and charism of each member. Laypeople are given a sense of belonging to the Church

The entire Church is sent out to proclaim and serve the kingdom of God. All members have a mandatory duty to build up the Church and share the entire mission of Christ. Indeed, we are the Church, a community of God's children and Christ's disciples through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, communion in the community and mission must be lumped together and stand up for one another.

How to let the laity participate actively in church activities? From other churches' experiences, it is best to encourage laypeople to form basic ecclesial communities (BECs). In Vietnam, in most cases all things stimulated by the clergy are considered important, while in BECs an active part is taken by the laity. BECs are a new way of being church and a new way for the laity to be closely involved in all activities.

BECs encourage public participation and utilize all the skills and charism of each member. Laypeople are given a sense of belonging to the Church, encouraged to take part in church life and trained in realizing the Holy Spirit's work in their daily lives.

They gather in small groups, celebrating the Word of God and the Eucharist so that they can heighten their sense of community and apostolate, which is leaven transforming our world.

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Parishes are BECs, but they are too crowded to establish and maintain horizontal relationships to live in authentic communion among members, let alone undertaking the mission together as a community.

Parishes also have associations and apostolic groups that could not draw all parishioners and fail to meet the needs of a participatory church.

In principle, a BEC must be a small community so that all members can know one another, take care of one another, meet regularly, pray together, share God's Word and discuss matters.

Their range of actions covers their whole life. They come to needy people's aid, visit and comfort the sick and elderly, help reconcile troubled families, jointly undertake initiatives to resist social evils and pay much attention to youths' studies and entertainment.

They may take turns serving and leading liturgy during Masses. BECs' representatives join parish-based pastoral councils to be aware of parish needs and activities. In general, they do whatever to make the Kingdom of God more visible in their neighborhoods.

In short, each Christian is given a manifestation by the Holy Spirit for the common good. These charisms need to be aroused, encouraged to build up the Church.

We often place importance on the Church as a hierarchical structure, but the Church is also a charismatic or Spirit structure. It is the Spirit to breathe new life into the Church, that as a whole is linked together and alive by the charisms.

Vietnamese people greatly appreciate kindness and indebtedness among them, so when they live far away from their homeland, they often gather in groups of those who are from the same hometown to meet their emotional needs.

People all want to be respected, cared for, share and make contributions to the common good. Moreover, this is a pressing need for Catholics.

These communities represent parishes in their areas and express the Church's liveliness in their vibrancy

In parishes, we see that most parishioners only meet once a week at churches, but they just sit close to one another and take no one into care. After services, they return to their homes, living alone, feel lonely and anonymous among a crowd.

BECs are the place where these human needs are satisfied.

In short, BECs transpire as a result of the process of returning to Christian source, reviving the community of Jesus' disciples in the Gospel and the first community of the faithful in Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles — under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the wind of renewal of the Vatican Council II.

These communities represent parishes in their areas and express the Church's liveliness in their vibrancy. BECs encourage all members' active participation and utilize all skills and charisms of each member. They are an effective way to bring faith into people's lives, to live out the commandments of love, solidarity and sharing.

Father John Baptist Tran Huu Hanh is from the Congregation of the Holy Family based in An Giang province. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published here.

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