“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

Communion of Communities: Ecclesiological Perspective

By Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD

“2017- Parish as Communion of Communities: In this year we will discern the quality of faith life in the parish, the fellowship, belongingness, and participation experienced by its members. Efforts will be focused on making the parish a communion of communities, a communion of Basic Ecclesial Communities and of covenanted faith-communities and ecclesial movements. All these various communities should be thus integrated into the life and mission of the parish so that the parish will be truly be a faith community immersed in the lives of its people.”

Etymology of Communion – Koinonia

Communion is a translation of the original Greek koinonia which has several connotations: Union, unity; Fellowship; Community; Friendship;  Sharing;  Participation;  Partnership;

Koinonia in Sacred Scripture

In the New Testament, there are several texts that refer to the theme of koinonia. Among these are the following:  John 17:20-24 – “they may be one, as we are one;  1 Cor 12: Body of Christ;   2 Cor 13/Phil 2:1 – Communion of the Holy Spirit;  Acts 2:42-46, 4:32-35 – life of the early Jerusalem community.

In these texts, Koinonia has both vertical and horizontal dimension:  communion with the divine and communion among the believers.

Dimensions of Communion

An analysis of the description of Koinonia in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35, would show that communion has four dimensions that are interrelated: Communion of Mind and Heart (community, solidarity, fellowship, friendship);  Communion of the Word/Faith (apostolic teachings), Unity in Faith;  Communion of the Table (Table-Fellowship, Eucharist);  Communion of Goods (sharing of material/spiritual resources, stewardship)collection in liturgy—koinonia

Communion is to be lived and expressed within communities and between communities—at the local, regional, universal levels.

Up to the middle of the first millennium, the dominant model of the Church was that of the Church as communion. This model was later deemphasized with the dominant model of the Church as institution. This was retrieved by Vatican II.

Communion in Vatican II

The dominant image of the Church in Vatican II is that of communion. It is linked with the Church as People of God.

General heading of ch 1 Lumen Gentium: the Mystery of the Church. Church is regarded as the sacrament of communion: “since the Church, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.” (LG 1)

It is grounded on the Holy Trinity. Echoing St. Cyprian, Vatican II views the Church as “a people made one from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (LG 4). Thus, Ecclesial Communion is a reflection of Trinitarian Communion.

The Church is the moon that reflects the light from the Sun (Trinity).The loving union (perichoresis) of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is the model and goal of Ecclesial Communion.

Vatican II links communion with the people of God:  “Hence the messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may appear as a small flock, is, however, a most sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established as a communion of life, love and truth, it is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all; as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf Mt 5:13-16) it is sent into the whole world.” (LG 9)

In a commentary written before he was elected pope, Karol Wojtyla explains how communion is intimate related the Church as People of God: “Communion is the link binding together the community of the People of God. Thus it appears that internal development and renewal of the Church in the spirit of Vatican II depends to great extent on the authentic deepening of faith in the Church as community whose essential bonds that of communion.” (Sources of Renewal)

Ecclesial Communion is also manifested among the bishops—in relation to each other and in relation to the pope. This is referred to as hierarchical communion: “In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided  he put Peter as the head of the apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion.” (LG 18)

This hierarchical communion is associated with collegiality.  It refers to the bond of unity that links the bishop with the college of bishops and with the Roman Pontiff (LG 22).  This aspect of communion affirms the vision of the Church as communion of local and particular Churches.

The Ecclesiology of Communion in PCP II      

The vision of the Church as communion is a constitutive dimension of the vision of the renewed Church: The Church as Community of Disciples; Living in Communion;  Participating in the Mission of Christ;  as Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly People; And as Church of the Poor.  This finds expression in BECs

How does PCP II view communion? PCP II echoes both Vatican II and the Acts of the Apostles: “In community a Christian grows in faith. We are called as individuals, and each one must give a personal response. But Christ calls us to form a Christian community.  He wants the Church to be “a communion of life, love and truth” (LG 9) “a community of faith, hope and charity” (LG 8). The first disciples expressed this in their own lives.  They formed a community in which they “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  They were “one heart and mind” and shared even the things they owned so that no one among them was in want (Acts 4:32-35).” (PCP II 89-90).

Communion includes the following:  Unity in Diversity; Equality in Dignity; Mutual sharing and interaction; Sharing of material/spiritual goods, human resources, etc.

The ecclesiology of communion is linked with the idea of participation and mission.

“Participation is a very important aspect of the Church as communion…In the Philippines, participation largely means enabling the laity to participate more fully in the life of the Church and in its task of mission.” (PCP II 98-99).

The link between communion and mission is further emphasized when PCP II asserts that “the Church is a communion in a state of mission.” Participation in Mission as Communion does not simply mean that everyone—from hierarchy to laity – participate in decision making process or in governance. Participation is linked to Mission—especially the three-fold prophetic, priestly and kingly mission. Thus, as communion/community the leaders and members of the Church actively participate in Christ’s mission as prophet, priest and king. Participation in decision-making, planning, implementation and evaluation should focus on this three-fold mission: Prophetic—evangelization, catechesis, gospel sharing, denunciation of social evil; Priestly—worship, liturgy; Kingly—charity, social action.

Communion of Communions: levels of communion

The Church is a communion of communions—a community of communities. There are various levels of communion:  Communion of local Churches (universal, regional, national); Communion of parish communities (within the diocese); Communion of BECs and other faith communities (within the parish); Communion of families/domestic churches (BECs, neighborhood and family groupings)

Communion among Particular Churches

The universal Church is regarded as a communion of communions—a communion of local and particular Churches:  “Communion requires that the particular Churches remain open to one another and collaborate with one another, so that in their diversity they may preserve and clearly manifest the bond of communion with the universal Church. Communion calls for mutual understanding and a coordinated approach to mission, without prejudice to the autonomy and rights of the Churches according to their respective theological, liturgical and spiritual traditions.”       (John Paul II Ecclesia in Asia 26)

There are other expressions of communion among local and particular churches – such as the synod of bishops, the conference of episcopal conference of bishops (CELAM in Latin America and FABC in Asia).

The Diocese as Locus of Communion

If the universal Church is a communion of particular Churches, so also each particular Church is a communion of parish communities:  “Each particular Church must be grounded in the witness of ecclesial communion which constitutes its very nature as Church. It is primarily in the Diocese that the vision of a communion of communities can be actualized in the midst of the complex social, political, religious, cultural & economic realities of Asia.” (EA 25).

The Parish as Communion of Communities

PCP II regards the parish as the customary place for the living out of ecclesial communion: “The second community that needs renewal but is at the same time a very important means and venue of Church renewal is the parish. It is here that the full ministry and life of the Church is experienced by the faithful in a regular basis. In the diocese the parish “continues to be the customary place where the faithful grow in holiness, to participate in the mission of the Church and to live out ecclesial communion.” PCP II 598.

“A parish should be a dynamic Eucharistic and evangelizing community of communities, a center that energizes movements, Basic Ecclesial Communities and other apostolic groups and in turn nourished by them. Pastors therefore should have to devise new and effective ways of shepherding the faithful, so that the faithful will feel part of the parish family  where each one is important,  each one is needed,  each one served and called to serve” PCP II 600-601.

St. John Paul II likewise affirms the vision of the parish as the locus of ecclesial communion and participation in mission made possible through pastoral planning:  “The parish remains the ordinary place where the faithful gather to grow in faith, to live the mystery of ecclesial communion and to take part in the Church’s mission… Pastoral planning with the lay faithful should be a normal feature of all parishes.” (Ecclesia in Asia 25).

In his exhortation to bishops, St. John Paul II recommends this can be made possible by setting of up Basic Ecclesial Communities: “One practical way of sub-dividing parishes in certain regions is through the establishment of what are called “basic ecclesial communities”—groups of Christians who gather together to assist each other in the spiritual life and in Christian formation and to discuss shared human and ecclesial problems related to their common goal. Such communities have given proof of efficacious evangelizing, above all in parishes in rustic or rural settings.  It is important, however, to avoid every temptation to become isolated from ecclesial communion or ideologically exploited.”  JP II, Apostolorum Successores 215

Likewise, Pope Francis views the parish as community of communities and environment of living communion and participation, although it is a dream and still to be realized in many parishes:  “The parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey,and a center of missionary outreach. We must admit that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to the people to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission oriented.” (EG 28)

The role of the priest vis-à-vis the vision of the Church as communion and the parish as communion of communities is clear:  “In union with the bishop and closely related to the presbyterium he builds up the unity of the Church community in the harmony of diverse vocations, charisms and services. The ecclesiology of communion becomes decisive for understanding the identity of the priest, his essential dignity, and his vocation among the people of God” PDV 12

The priest should promote this ecclesial communion within families (the domestic church) within the BECs regarded as communion of families and family groupings and between BECs (zones, district, and parochial levels). Communion requires that the priest is united to his flock.  He develops closer relationship with the members of the parish community and BECs.  This requires knowing them, becoming close to them, spending more time with them and developing friendship with them. Having table-fellowship with them can be an expression of and a means for deepening communion. The Eucharist becomes a meaningful celebration of this communion.

The priest must also promote communion among the members of LOMAS (lay organizations, movements and associations) and the BECs, and encourage their members to actively participate in their respective BECs.  Thus, as servant of communion, the priest has the responsibility to unite and coordinate all the various communities and groups within the parish – the BECs, the faith-communities and LOMAs, the youth, etc.

Thus, when viewing the parish as communion of communities the primary reference point is the BECs – the parish as communion of BECs.  The BECs are the basic pastoral unit of the parish – they are an organic part of the parish, subject to the authority and pastoral care of their pastors. There are also trans-parochial faith communities or covenant communities and LOMAs that are in the parish and whose members belong to the parish. They need to align their activities with the pastoral thrust and priorities of the parish and be actively involved in BECs.

BECs as Locus of Communion

In referring to the parish as communion of communities – the primary reference is to the BECs although not exclusively. The BECs are local communities of Catholic Christians at the neighborhood and villages within the parish. The members are close to one another and relate to each other as friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord. They gather regularly to share the Word of God and live it in their daily life, to pray and celebrate their faith. They share their resources and find ways to help and serve one another and those who are poor and address their problems.

They are known by many local names (GKK, GSK, MSK, Gimong, SISA, etc.). There are various forms and shapes:  Chapel-centered communities – 40 to 100 families; Chapel-centered communities with family groupings or cells (composed of 7-15 families per FG); Family groupings/cells without chapels (link all FGs as one community/BEC)

PCP II recognizes the BECs as expression of the vision on a renewed Church which includes communion:  “Our vision of Church as communion, participation and mission, Church as Priestly, Prophetic and kingly people, and as Church of the Poor, a Church that is renewed, is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement. This is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities.” (#137)

“They are small communities of Christians, usually of families who gather together around the Word of God and the Eucharist. These communities are united to their pastors but are ministered to regularly by lay leaders. The members know each other by name, and share not only the Word of God and the Eucharist but also their concerns both material and spiritual. They have a strong sense of belongingness and responsibility for one another.” (PCP II 138)

St. John Paul II describes BECs as part of the effort to decentralize the parish community and regard them as expressions and means for a deeper communion:  ““These are groups of Christians who, at the level of the family or in a similarly restricted setting, come together for prayer, Scripture reading, catechesis, and discussion of human and ecclesial problems with a view to a common commitment. These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a “civilization of love.” These communities decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united.  They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor and neglected, and of commitment to the transformation of society.  Within them, the individual Christian experiences community and therefore senses that he or she is playing an active role and is encouraged to share in the common task.  Thus, these communities become a means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.”

“Because the Church is communion the new ‘basic communities,’ if they truly live in unity with the Church, are a true expression of communion a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the Church.” (RM 51)

How can BECs be genuine expression of communion?. The members experience the bond of unity which is based on shared faith, celebrated in the breaking of the bread, concretely expressed in the sharing of material goods (Acts 2:42ff).

In the BECs the members know each other, they have a strong sense of belonging and responsibility for one another. They live as brothers and sisters, as community of friends—kapuso, kapamilya, kaibigan and kapitbahay. The Catholic families are linked to other families in the neighborhoods and organized as family groupings or BECs cells. The neighborhood cells or family groupings are linked to each other and comprise the chapel-level or area level BECs. These BECs are linked to other BECs.

There are lots of celebration and table-fellowship in BECs—with simple common meals to fiesta celebration. The celebration of the Eucharist is more meaningful because it expresses and celebrates the life of communion—of unity, friendship, sharing and participation among the members.

The sharing of time, talent and treasure is an essential expression of communion. This means practicing a spirituality of stewardship. This generates a spirit of volunteerism (sharing of time and talent). Some BECs adopt a modified tithing system (sharing of treasure) which is voluntary by nature. There are also mutual aid systems and income generating projects designed to help the members who are needy and even those who are not members of the community.  Some BECs in the rural areas have set up communal farms. Many have organized cooperatives.

Thus, in the BECs the members express their communion more fully as they unite and actively participate in fulfilling their prophetic, priestly and kingly/servant mission.

Lay Organizations, Movements and Associations (LOMAs) and Communion

There are many Catholic organizations, movements and associations in the parish. They co-exists with BECs—competing with them at times, collaborating with them at other times with some of their members actively involved in BECs. There are some parishes where the parish priest think that they should be considered as BECs or BECized while others priests think that they should not be part of the parish. There is a need to clarify the nature of LOMAs and their relationship with BECs and the parish. This is found in PCP II (608):

“They respond to the need of the lay faithful to belong to a group supportive of Christian aspirations. They provide an environment and support for apostolic endeavors. Basic Ecclesial Communities do not necessarily make such associations superfluous, for these latter usually have a wider scope of service and draw their membership from the whole parish. But such associations must not degenerate into elitist religious clubs.

“They should become schools of sanctification, and reach out to the un-churched and the poor. While they should continue to foster national and international ties with their mother organizations, their members should be encouraged to be involved in BECs and their parochial activities should be in accord and in coordination with parish pastoral priorities and programs.”

In Ecclesia in Asia St. John Paul II affirms the role of LOMAs in building communion: “The synod also recognized the role of renewal movements in building communion, in providing opportunities for a more intimate experience of God through faith and the sacraments, and in fostering conversion of life. It is the responsibility of Pastors to guide, accompany and encourage these groups so that they may be well integrated into the life and mission of the parish and Diocese…

“Those involved in associations and movements should offer their support for the local Church and not present themselves as alternatives to Diocesan structures and parish life. Communion grows stronger when the local leaders of these movements work together with the Pastors in a spirit of charity for the good of all” (EA 25)

What is then the difference between BECs and LOMAs? BECs and LOMAs have some similarities but they are not the same. Unlike BECs which are territorial by nature and an organic part of the parish and under the direct authority and pastoral care of the parish priest/clergy, LOMAs are trans-parochial by nature, they are in the parish but not of the parish, having their own lines of authority and  accountability  beyond the parish—at the regional, national and international levels. They possess a certain degree of autonomy from the parish priest and conduct their internal affairs without interference from him. Nevertheless, in so far as they work and operate within the parish, they are still regulated by the parish priest and are expected to be integrated in the life and mission of the parish. Their members are expected to be actively involved in their respective BECs, help in their formation and evangelization and also provide leadership if needed. This is a concrete expression of their communion with the parish and the BECs.


Concluding Remarks

The vision of the Church as communion veers away from an institutional and bureaucratic model of the Church.  The Church is experienced as a community and an extended family where the members feel at home, experience a sense of belonging, solidarity and sharing. There are Filipino cultural values expressed in local language that are associated with communion: kapuso, kapamilya, kaibigan, kasama and kapitbahay.  The intimacy, friendship, sharing and participation can be experienced more intensely at the local community or BEC level—among family groupings, at the neighborhood and villages. The sense of belonging and solidarity is felt at the parish level (the parish as a network or communion of small communities), the diocesan level, and the universal level.  Beyond the level of the local community, what prevails is the spirit of unity and solidarity—a mystical communion. The Church indeed is a web of relationships. But, ecclesial communion is not automatically experienced by the members of the Church. The pastoral priority is to form genuine Christian communities, especially at the neighborhood and village level, within the parish where communion is truly experienced. This is the primary responsibility of the parish priest as part of his ministry of pastoral leadership and communion. Through his efforts, inspired by the bishop, and with the active participation of lay leaders the parish grows as a communion of communities.


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