THE PIONEERS OF SCCs IN INDIA
(as reported in DIIPA NEWSLETTER VOL 10.NO.3,JULY 2009)
Here are some of the pioneers who made great strides in building SCCs in their own regions and in our country. This list of pioneers is by no means complete and we wish to add as many as we come across. We would like to acknowledge services of all others too in promoting SCCs and may God bless all of them.The stories of the pioneers who report here are inspiring for us and let us hope it is for you too.
1.Fr Edwin M. John, Kottar diocese
I was deeply impressed by Basic Christian Communities in Latin America about which I read in a magazine sometime in early 1970s and it rang a bell in my mind. It seemed to be the culmination of whatever I thought I should do for the Church. I was thoroughly convinced of the efficacy and power of these groups. It was a conviction that got reinforced later while I did my journalism course in the Philippines.
But Basic Communities were more than just groups. They were territorially organized, inclusive entities, ensuring that the process and interventions reached all. They could be easily federated to lead to a situation where the parish becomes an easily organisable communion of communities. What better strategy for Church renewal, I wondered !!
When I returned to India, I was made the parish priest of Kodimunai in May 1977. This coastal parish in the diocese of Kottar, India’s southernmost diocese, turned out to be known as the first parish where Basic Christian Community programme was experimented. May be by 1979 these communities gained strength and developed a sort of organizational grid. We had territorially-organized seventeen Basic Communities of about thirty families each. Five representatives from each of the basic communities formed the general body of the village and one representative each formed the executive body. The general body was registered as a society under the name, ‘Integral Development Society of Kodimunai.
We bolstered the process by conducting a number of training programmes of various kinds and various durations. The various formation programmes, seminars, talks etc. meant that the each of the basic communities had leaders who could conduct the meetings without outside help. The village was a particularly violent one on the coastal strip. Some three hundred people were involved in various cases. We could bring down the number to almost zero within three years after we began the BCCs.
The experiment of Kodimunai caught the attention of the nearby diocese of Trivandrum which went for it enthusiastically and soon became the first diocese in India to adopt BCCs as the official policy of the diocese.
We brought out some set of participatory modules to be used in basic communities. Two of the adaptation from Latin American countries: one, a novena in preparation for Christmas with liberative gospel services; another, a set of rosary-linked and Bible-reading-based participatory prayer sessions. The 31 rosaries had nearly 155 mysteries, each with its own bible reading, reflections and each rosary with its own group discussion questions, covering almost the entire gamut of Christian faith response and offering a good initiation to Christian Commitment. They came handy for BCC-based May and October devotions.
We initiated also a weekly four-page newsletter in Tamil to keep the movement alive. Later I wanted to take the Basic Community concept to secular arena in the form of Basic Human Communities. We also called them kingdom communities. The work for this Kingdom is not the sole prerogative of the Church. The church has to join forces with all the people of good will to achieve this kingdom vision. Thus I began to emphasize that just as the Church is to work for a new world, BCCs are also to work for promoting Basic Human Communities or latter called as Neighbourhood Communities. Still later, to underscore the political potential of the concept we called them Neighbourhood Parliaments.
Gradually we evolved the dream of an alternative political order in terms of the multitier global federation on neighbourhood parliaments, governed by the five principles of smallness of size of the parliaments, numerical uniformity in terms of representation, subsidiarity, recall scope as regards elected representatives, and convergence. We took the concept to United Nations and our Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry State Parliament of Children received an UN award this year. www.ncnwrld.org , www.childrenparliament.info , www.peopleparliament.org.
Now I am happy there are so many to give a helping hand to BCCs. I continue to be in the national advisory committee for BCCs. Now the challenge is to ensure that these Basic Communities take it as their job to promote neighbourhood parliaments, especially of children, to begin with. The Second Vatican Council clearly affirmed that the role of the laity is to consecrate the temporal order. I do hope that BCCs guide the laity for intense secular involvement in socio-economic and political arena.
Slogan: A participatory church, through Basic Christian Communities, for a participatory world through Basic Human Communities.
2. Bishop Bosco Penha, Mumbai.
I came to SCCs quite accidentally. The Bombay Archdiocese held its first major meeting of all priests and bishops called the Bombay Priests’ Synod in 1980. The idea was proposed by me and accepted by the Presbyterium. I prepared for this meeting for two years. It was mainly meant to be a renewal of the Church in Mumbai and a search for ways and means to revitalize it. During the course of the meeting, one of the papers that had emerged was on SCCs and their power to renew the Church. This somehow caught the imagination of the house and the entire Presbyterium voted for making the SCCs a priority in the archdiocese. Since I had prepared the meeting, it was suggested by the house that I also follow it up. Since SCCs was the first priority, I started working on them.
I began the work immediately after the Bombay Priests’ Synod in 1981. To my amazement and dismay, not a single parish wanted to start this project. It was my first experience of the dichotomy between the legislature and the executive in the Church. I was advised to give up the whole project. That made no sense to me. I therefore began to strategize how to achieve the goal. I was inspired to request the neighbouring parish priest (at that time I was the Rector of the seminary and had no parish of my own) to lend me his parish as a ‘laboratory’. He willingly agreed and the first parish with SCCs was inaugurated at St. Thomas Parish, Goregaon, in June 1984. It had thirty communities with approximately five lay animators per community.
Within a year, the news of this project had spread to various parts of the archdiocese. By 1985, I had eleven parishes requesting me to begin. By 1986 the number had reached twenty-five. Thereafter there was no turning back. We had our ups and downs, misunderstandings and obstacles, blocks and criticism, but to cut a long story short today practically all the parishes of Mumbai archdiocese have SCCs. The number is approximately 2000 and the number of animators is approximately between 12,000-13,000.
I have been amazed and overwhelmed by the progress made over these years. It is very clearly the work of Divine Providence in which I was only a human instrument. So much of help and support came from unexpected quarters. The Papal exhortations ‘Christifideles Laici’, Redemptoris Missio, the FABC Bandung Conference of 1990 and the 1992 CBCI meeting at Pune made SCCs the policy for India. All these major policy statements eased the way tremendously. In 1990 the CBCI asked me to be the Chairperson for the Commission for Laity and Family which also took the responsibility for promoting SCCs. This gave us a chance to popularize the SCC vision among the bishops of India and across the huge country.
Today in Mumbai nobody challenges the importance of SCCs anymore. There are still priests, clergy and laity who resist the movement either because they are not yet convinced or because of the work involved; but everyone accepts the importance of this work in practice. Today, in the archdiocese, most priests are involved in SCCs in one way or the other; so also hundreds of religious women and thousands of lay people. All the three bishops are very supportive. All this is a change from where we started.
At the moment, in Mumbai, the SCCs spanning the whole archdiocese are like a huge machine, constantly in need of attention – a drop of oil here, tightening a screw there, replacing worn out parts. There are many and constant interventions I have to make to keep the whole machinery going. It is my hope and prayer after my retirement (three years hence) there will be many others to keep this work going. Recently the archdiocese has appointed, for the first time, an Assistant Director for SCCs. They have also replaced the Promoter to SCCs with a new incumbent. The back bone of this on-going project are the quarterly reports that come into our office three times a year, that makes us aware of the vast panorama, I call it a ‘kaleidoscope’ of thousands of varied activities all over the archdiocese, organized by the almost two thousand communities that we have.
My hope for the future is that the SCCs will grow in strength, will involve more and more bishops, priests, religious and laity and will move from Small Christian Communities to Small Human Communities so that we can contribute in a powerful way to national integration.
SCC reminds us that the Eucharist is not only to be celebrated in Church but to be lived in every part of the parish. We must carry the Eucharistic Mystery from the Church to our neighbourhoods. We must work to wipe the tear from every eye and to bring the smile to every face.
3. Sr. Christin, H.C
In the year 1991, in St. Joseph Parish, Manila, Philippines, I had an inspiring and moving experience of living in a Christian community. There was an expectant mother in one of the SCCs and I witnessed how the whole community was concerned about the mother, the father, and of the whole family where the child was to be born. They said, This child will be born not only in your family but also in our BEC (Basic Ecclesial Community). We want the child to arrive in an atmosphere of welcome, acceptance and love. This will ensure a healthy child for the community, the Church as a whole and for the country. Different people from the community, who took turns to visit the family, kept the mother happy, instructed the family on various issues and even prepared things needed for the child. Here I could experience to some extent how the early Christians community lived in kononia. I found that SCCs can provide a model to illustrate how fellowship with Christ is to be lived in the new social, cultural, intellectual and economic situation of today.
After my studies in Manila I was back in India in the year 1993. I wanted to plant the seeds of SCC in the Hindi belt of our country, especially in the BIJAN Region. I shared my dream with Fr. Sebastian Kanekattil SJ, the then Head of the Faith education Department of Nvajyoti Niketan, and both of us set out for a study of the possibilities of planting SCC in the region. We went to experience and study one of the more successful models of SCC in India at the time, in the diocese of Trivandrum, and stayed there for two weeks, visiting the Diocesan center and the team, the SCCs in the parishes etc. This was a very enriching experience for me. Back in Patna, we visited all the dioceses of our region, spoke to people about SCC and took their suggestions. We worked out a training manual Nai Akash aur Nai Prithvi for the would be SCC animators. in June 1993 we called for a team from each diocese for training and the response was very encouraging and so we conducted two more training programs for the beginners.
In 1997 I was transferred to our Mother House in Switzerland. I had to leave my unaccomplished dream behind. Back in India again, in 1998, I shared with Bishop Bosco Penha about my broken dreams. I then thought such dreams are only possible for Bishops who have the power and authority. Bishop Bosco then helped me to see that my approach was incorrect. He alleged that in the history of the Church many reforms and transformations took place because of the initiatives of women and laity. He said, “Go to the people.” So I decided to follow the guidance of Bishop Bosco.
The opportunity to “go to the people” came my way when I was transferred to Maheshmunda parish, in Bhagalpur diocese, in the year 2000. Thus, my second beginning was in a village near to our Convent, which was probably one of the most difficult villages of the diocese. This village was transformed by doing Gospel Sharing in the SCCs. The inspiring example of this village, and the fire of the Word of God, gradually spread to other villages in the parish and from there to the nearby parishes and to the whole diocese. What was considered the most difficult parish of the diocese, and in that parish, the most difficult village, got inspired and transformed by the SCC way of life which indeed became an inspiring example for others.
i. Archdiocese of Kolkata
In 2004, I was transferred from Bhagalpur diocese to Kolkata archdiocese. During the first three years I observed the archdiocese, studied the possibilities of SCC in the archdiocese and prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In October 2006, together with Fr. Reginald Fernandez, who always loved SCCs as the New Way of Being Church, started the work of revival and promotion of SCCs in the archdiocese.
I like to compare the SCCs of Kolkata to the Chinese bamboo tree ‘Moso’. When planted in the ground, it shows no sign of life for five years; then it appears and grows at the rate of two feet per day for several weeks! In the same way SCC was planted in the archdiocese 18 years back by enthusiastic priests and lay men and like ‘moso’, it was taking roots deep down in the Christian life of Calcutta, so that now, in these past few years, it could come up with its phenomenal growth. In Kolkata we have now SCCs in 33 parishes and the others are slowly picking up. It has brought much life in the parishes and in the archdiocese.
ii. W. Bengal-Sikkim SCC Regional Council:
Fr. Arul Rosario in Krishnagar diocese, Fr. Michael Pandian in Assansol diocese and Fr. Jagadish SJ in Darjeeling diocese had been relentlessly working to promote SCCs in their respective dioceses and other dioceses in the region. They needed support and coordinated effort in the Region. Together with the help of Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Kolkata, we have formed the West Bengal- Sikkim Regional Council.
There is an endless list of joys experienced in the SCCs. We have examples of court cases withdrawn through SCC after 18 years of bitter fights, 4 generations old family disputes and quarrels reconciled, adult baptisms, return of many break-away Catholics, care of the weak, sick and widows through SCCs, growing lay leadership etc. There are instances where parishes have become financially self-reliant, remarkable change in people’s attitude and in their behaviour like, from being mere receivers to givers, men who were coming together for drinking and gambling in one parish now coming together for Gospel Sharing, SCCs helping the drug addicts to recover from their addiction, and so on. By any standards these are great achievements for the simple people in the north.
iii. Challenges and difficulties:
Among the most significant challenges sustaining and animating these communities remain one great challenge because of transfers of interested priests and other leaders. Many times there is indifference on the part of Church authorities (Bishops, priests and religious). A lot of patience is required as the SCC is a new concept and a new way of life which calls for change in attitudes, values and in the way of living. Lack of unity within the Church, illiteracy of people and lack of ongoing training for our laity are other challenges we face.
iv. My hope for the future:
My effort in building up Small Christian Communities brought me very close to the people. I believe that the care of all our people is only possible by all, when all the members of our Christian Communities take up responsibility to care for one another. I dream of neighborhood Communities coming together once a week or once a fortnight, reflecting on and sharing the Word of God, trying to translate the message in concrete action responding to the problems people face in their neighbourhood. The solidarity it generates and the sharing in love will not allow anybody to see another go to bed hungry.
Catch phrases about SCC: Church is a living organism; the body of Risen Christ! – seed bed of a new Society.
4. Mr. Gordon E Morris, Secunderabad
My first understanding about Small Christian Communities came from my own family. I come from a family of seven children and it is there I first learnt to pray, share and adjust to hierarchies of persons and priorities. Somewhere along the line of my learning during my early childhood was the understanding that the family comes before self. This understanding was strengthened by the Bible stories that my mother told me at night after the family Rosary.
It was in the year 1979, two years after my marriage that I came back to Hyderabad from Mumbai and was fortunate to meet Fr. Julian Studden, the parish priest who was very interested in forming in organizing the parish through Small Christian Communities. We worked together in the parish of St. Joseph at Gunfoundry and soon had the parish buzzing with activities. The parish was divided into zones and I was in the zone which had approx 140 families. We had a good team of leaders and the success of our activities was the intimate bonds we built up through regular house visits. The zone was sub divided into wards with one leader for each ward. Every 40-45 days every family was visited by the ward leader if available and myself. As a result we knew each and every family well and soon were able to organize to finance the education of the poorer children and also to reach out to the less fortunate brothers and sisters.
The Eucharist was our meeting point. Every two weeks we met as a community to celebrate the Eucharist which was followed by tea and snacks and the building of fellowship through community games, quizzes, etc. We also dedicated each month to one theme, e.g. Children, elders, youth, Lent preparation, Christmas etc. Special mention must be made of the efforts of the community to have a very active youth group in the zone, and looking back now, we see those youth as active Church members in different parishes. All these efforts over the years brought us closer. Even though we started reaping fruits from the beginning, the house visits never ceased.
I often like to compare my efforts to building Small Christian Communities as the process of driving a car. There is initially the excitement of getting a feel of the car and then learning the ‘ropes’ of driving and then learning to shift gears and feel the car purring and driving over smooth roads and maneuvering over pot holes and bumps with dexterity. It is in this context that I learnt to shift’ gears’ when I moved to a new parish of St. Anthony at Mudfort, Secunderabad in Jan. 1990. It took me time to get to know the priests and for them to know me and soon within a month or two I was getting involved in the parish activities. It was during that time, that Fr. Raphael from AP Jyotirmai Society visited our parish to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist and during the homily spoke of Small Christian Communities. Immediately after the Eucharist, I went to meet him and he asked me to meet him in his office which was in the parish. Soon I met him and he introduced me to the Lumko materials and Gospel Sharing and very generously gave me a set of manuals.
Within four months of shifting to Bowenpally I had already contacted about 40 families and in the month of May we had our first community Eucharist at our residence. That was the beginning of the process of building the first Small Christian Community in the city Hyderabad. The community would meet every Saturday either for Gospel Sharing, community planning, sharing etc. We as a community started our own newsletter which included an editorial, answering a question of faith, information of the birthdays and anniversaries during the month and a report’ of the monthly community meeting. It was on 30th Nov. 1990 that I really came to understand the Pallottine charism. A group of seven parishioners were invited to a launch of the Sahayatries a group of lay people who would follow the charism of the founder St.Vincent Pallotti. We seven then started working very closely with the parish priests to empower the laity in the parish. It was in this context that I met Fr. Thomas Vijay who as Secretary of the CBCI Laity Commission and was soon working with him in the formation of SCCs in India. I remember the initial days of traveling around India as a team ‘selling’ the idea of SCCs, conducting training programs in different parts of India.
In Nov. 1997, the Archbishop of Hyderabad, the Most Rev. Arulappa asked me to be part of the animation team to start SCCs in the Archdiocese. Forming a team was quite difficult so the Director, Fr. Jacob along with my wife Ivy, went around parish to parish every evening ‘selling’ the idea of SCCs. Every morning I would visit the parish priest in whose parish we would be conducting the animation program. Visiting the parish priest and sharing the vision, clearing their doubts and befriending them paid dividends. We now had priests on our side. Simultaneously the process was identifying the animation team and training them was going on. Once we had a priest and the community willing to start SCCs the animators would visit the families for anything from one month to six month or nine months. Only when the people were ready we would start SCCs. The family visits paid off and within one year we started over 100 communities and by the year 2000 we reached 250 communities. By the year 2002, we had competent people to take over from me as the main animator.
Looking back now, those struggles and pain were nothing compared to the joy of seeing the SCCs now being a part of the life of so many dioceses of India. For the last nineteen years I have been actively involved in the formation of SCCs at the national level and have animated communities in different dioceses and regions, and am now a member of the National
Animation team of SCCs in India.
As the newly appointed Secretary for Laity Commission of the CCBI, I have the onus of coordinating the efforts for the formation of the laity through SCCs. I don’t see this as an additional concern but a continuation of earlier efforts.
Did I have problems?, sure there were many, the rejection, the disapproval, the scorn that I had not studied theology and the mistrust that I was using the Church as a means for my own aggrandizement. I remember in one parish, the parish priest was so upset that the community was becoming active and self-sufficient and then came for the community meeting and said, ‘I am the parish priest, no more SCCs, I will tell you what to think and what to do’. That was the death knell of the SCC. Efforts to revive it were made but the community and the rest of the communities in the parish were never the same.
There were problems from within too. I had to learn to be humble, to allow others to grow, to make efforts to learn more, to imbibe the spirit of SCCs and make it a part of my own spirituality. I remember the struggle to go and spend three and a half years in Bombay to study theology at St. Pius Seminary (93-96). The extra efforts I had to make to integrate theology with my ministry and at the same time to be committed to family and Church, This was the dying process I had to undergo and still undergo each day. Today many of my earlier struggles are part of my personal spirituality but each day brings with it new challenges and it can be rightly said, ‘when you throw out one devil, you find that you have to fight another’.
If I was to say one thing to anyone who wants to build SCCs as an animator it is this : Be a person of God, and make your life the Gospel and reach out because ‘NO PASTORAL HOUSE VISITS, NO TRUE COMMUNITY’ .
5. Fr Arthur Pereira, Mangalore
i. Immediately after Vat II, as in other dioceses, even in our diocese of Mangalore, the talk was that we need to build Basic Christian Communities. In fact during the annual pastoral consultation all the priests unanimously decided that we need to have BCCs (as it was then called) in our diocese. The general feeling was that the Christian life needs to be revived and the effect has to be seen in the neighbourhood. The problem was we did not know how to go about the same. We also in our diocese invited some resource persons. They also gave some general guidelines. Enthusiasm was created of course, but the methodology was not known. Adequate tools were not available then.
The breakthrough, according to me, came in the year 1992 when for the first time a team from Mumbai deputed by Bishop Bosco Penha, gave one week long Lumko training program. There were about 35 participants including 20 priests. It was my first activity in the Pastoral Institute. However I could not participate in the same. But follow up of the trained members was done. Soon there was a National level training in Goa for 10 days during which Bishop Oswald Hirmer was present as the main resource person. We were 5 priests who had participated in it. This training has had a great effect on us. Soon we had a training team at the diocesan level. We had regular meetings with priests and lay leaders.
Soon parish level trainings were conducted. The number of trainers increased. We had several teams conducting training programmes. Then within two years we conducted a national level training programme of 10 days duration. It was conducted with the support from Fr. Thomas Vijay, who was then the secretary for the CBCI commission for laity. We had Bishop Oswald himself as the main resource person along with about 15 resource persons from our own diocese. There were around 79 participants.
ii. Soon the number of parishes who were involved with the building of SCCs kept on increasing. We had regular follow up training programmes with the representatives from these parishes consisting of priests, lay leaders and religious. These meetings which we had conducted every three months or so, became very effective. We had new sessions that we learnt. We also discussed on the problems that the SCCs faced and found solutions in common. We also had the annual gathering of all the leaders of SCCs, at the diocesan level and also at the deanery level.
iii. Unique features that contributed for the success of the SCCs.
- The bishop and the priests were very enthusiastic about this programme.
- The council of priests and the diocesan pastoral consultation in which all the priests of the diocese participate, unanimously resolved that we need to have the SCCs in all the parishes of the diocese.
- When the bishop met the priests individually he inquired about the SCC in the parish.
- He also participated in the SCCs meeting during his pastoral visit in some parishes.
- In the pastoral letters and circulars, the need of building the SCCs and the maintaining of the same was emphasized.
- Priests, lay leaders and religious were sent for training programs on SCCs, outside the diocese.
- Exposure programmes were organized by the Pastoral Institute for priests religious and lay leaders, even outside the diocese.
- For the ongoing training programme of junior and other priests, sessions related to SCCs were conducted. This was possible since as the Director of the Pastoral Institute I was also in charge of building SCCs.
- Good many of the Lumko and AsIPA sessions were translated into Konkani and were made available for the training.
- Regular training programmes were held at the parish level every two or three years where in the parish pastoral council was involved.
- The traditional geographical division of the parish consisting of about 25 families with a Leader, became quite conducive for this programme.
- The priests found that all the pastoral programmes of the parish became quite successful and the involvement of the lay people increased as a result of SCCs.
iv. The role of the priest in the training programme was unparallel. A unique feature that was followed in our diocese and which was a strong factor for the success of the programme was the role of the priests. For the parish based training programs which normally used to be held on Sundays, the local priest became automatically the team member to conduct the training programme along with the director of SCCs and other team members. In other words, the pattern that was followed is that the SCC director along with the parish priest and assistants if any, came together prior to the training to select the sessions and to study and plan for conducting the same. As a result of this the local priests were present throughout the training. In this way the SCC programme became parish based programme and not the ‘diocesan director’s’ programme. This pattern is followed even today.
v. When I came to discover that the SCC way is a sure way for the effective pastoral ministry and to realize the Vat. II vision of the Church, I began to work for the programme with my heart and soul. I went through most of the Lumko training manuals and made a thorough study of the same. At times I had to go through several sessions, before selecting an apt session especially for the priests. This conviction of mine grew year after year and the daily experience of conducting the sessions, interaction with various groups, priests and religious, deepened my vision.
A number of useful “Codes” became very handy for me to convey the awareness. My experience of the last 18 years in the field of SCCs has given me a great joy as a priest. The various opportunities that I got to interact with so many bishops, priests, religious and lay people from various dioceses and countries have made me strong in my conviction that the future of the Church is in the SCCs. I am also surprised that I could compose in the local language of Konkani more than 50 gospel based songs for the SCCs and these CDs and cassettes are used by the SCC members.
vi. I am in a parish now. I see that in all my pastoral activities, the pastoral focus is kept in mind. We know that the meeting of SCC is just one among many pastoral activities. In order to move towards a new way of Church, which is participatory, we have to see that all the pastoral activities need to be done in a new or different way. For me the Pastoral focus is the guiding light. It is “From Christ the center-We become a community-To carry on Kingdom Mission”. In other words I question myself, how any pastoral task can bring us closer to Christ or build us into a community and thereby help us to carry on the mission of Christ? Even our Parish Pastoral Council members are guided to think in these lines.
vii. Some guidelines any facilitator should keep in mind while building the SCCs.
* We need to have a lot of patience. Change is very slow.
* We need to have continuous formation.
* Always aim at team work and build local leadership. It may be weak but it is lasting.
* Keep on reading and reflecting on SCCs.
* Always do adequate planning before any training programme however efficient you are.
* Let your daily SCC activity flow from your prayer life. It is God’s work remember that.
* Have a positive outlook. Be courteous and encouraging towards all your team members.
Today we have SCCs in all the parishes. Obviously they are at their various stages of their growth. They have a lot of ups and downs. They are all struggling to grow. They are a reflection of what our Church is today. It is not only a way of building the Church; it is also an instrument to strengthen the Church.
6. Vincent Kympat, Bishop of Jowai
In 1994 Archbishop Hubert D’Rosario SDB, of Shillong, presented me a book “For All the Peoples of Asia” with a word, “Vincent, take this book I reserved it for you, you will need it one day”. I didn’t bother much about it, since I was a busy priest, but out of curiosity I glanced at it on reaching home. I found that the book contains documents of FABC from 1970 to 1991. I was surprised to find that the bishops have spoken so much on Asianization of the Gospel, the importance of going back to the Gospel, the Grass-root church and the Basic Christian Communities. I started using many points from it in my talks and in homilies.
In the April 2000 Rev. Dominic Jala SDB became the Archbishop of Shillong. I approached him and briefed him about the desire of having a Diocesan Synod in 2000 which later Archbishop Resto had agreed in 1998, but we could only have a Diocesan Assembly in the month of May 24th to 2th 2000. At the concluding Mass of the assembly Archbishop Dominic Jala SDB announced that Shillong Archdiocese would go for the New Way of Being Church through SCCs, and every parish should start SCCs from that year on wards.
In August 23-27, 2000, a NE Regional Assembly was held in Shillong with bishop Bosco Penha of Mumbai as the resource person. It made me and also some others more and more convince of the need to renew the Church through SCCs. The National Assembly in Bangalore in September , 2000 gave the national back up for renewal. I went with Sr. Martina L.Thabah MSMHC from Parish to Parish in the year 2000 preaching on the need to renew the Church. In January 2001 I was appointed to implement the decision of the Diocesan Assembly, I found that the best methodology to promote this new way of being church is the AsIPA/DIIPA participatory method. I translated these and other material into local Khasi language, which proved to be a big boost spreading this new awareness.
i. The First Effort
I was appointed the Chairman of Faith Formation Commission in the Archdiocese of Shillong on January 1st, 2001. I got the support of Sr. Martina L Thabah MSMHC, a zealous, a pushy and a committed person for the work. Soon after the Diocesan Assembly 2000 we launched the programme with the Catechists of the Archdiocese during the 2 week of updating course. It was highly appreciated, and the interested Catechists began it in their respective places. This helped us when we animated in the different parishes. We went from one parish to another and conducted a series of awareness and deepening programmes.
Our methodology was more a charismatic preaching for renewal which changed to an animating style with our exposure programme in Mumbai, facilitated by the team of Bishop Bosco. Our association with DIIPA TEAM Nagpur empowered us to grow into the Regional and National Team. Now we have picked up both the animation skills and the material needed to promote the New Way of Being Church.
“Rome was not built in a day”. This saying helped us to be patient. SCC is a new way of being Church; it is a challenge for everyone. People who were used to the charismatic taste initially did not appreciate the 7 steps Gospel Sharing and most of the parish priests called it very dry and sleepy method. SCCs decided on their own to respond to the Word in their neighborhood and the Church elders see it as a threat to their authority. Many would often speak about Fr. Vincent’s SCCs and not of the local Church.
iii. Present Stand of SCCs.
Our perseverance paid off eventually. Our constant follow-up and our patient listening to the complaints and criticisms from all quarters, our acceptance of the many SCC drop-outs, our friendly approach to the coldness of the priests, all these helped us to make small, humble beginnings in many parishes. We worked hard to provide almost every parish a Parish Team that gave regular training to SCCs. This has stabilized SCCs to a great extent.
iv. The Future Hope
The Bishops of NE India and CBCI gave full support of SCC way of being Church. This is seen from the setting up a SCC Commission at National Level and at Regional Level. After my Episcopal Appointment and before my Consecration as Bishop of Jowai, the NE Bishops of India appointed me Regional Chairman of SCC Commission in March 2006. Many priests are getting interested and have sponsored SCC programmes for their parishioners in their respective parishes and selected some for training in other places. Today most dioceses in the Northeast have SCCs and these have brought a deep and growing sense of Church and faith in the people.
My own Conviction.
SCC is a single – living and active – Church in the neighbourhood extending the saving hand of Christ to all people beginning with the neighbours.
7. Rev. Sr. Martina L. Thabah MSMHC
It was in the year 1992-1993 when I was in Manila Philippines that I came to know about Basic Ecclesial Communities from a group of some men and women who came for Gospel Sharing every weekend to the place where I stayed for my short course in Lucena City.
Then my thoughts went back to my home parish in Northeast India and it gave me no clue about our people’s response to such a venture. One fine day during our course, I approached our animator Fr. Bart of the ‘Little Children Community’ of Tacloban City, who gave me some guidance and a copy of The Days ahead for today’s Parish”.
When I came back towards the end of 1993, I was sent again to the same mission I worked earlier for, Resurrection Parish in the East Khasi Hills. Having known the faithful very well in this area I made an attempt to experiment this material. With my companion sister we focused on the faithful of a village near the border of Bangladesh called Nongtyngur and Ri-masar.
We launched this new programme in January 1994, which had of course starting problems. It was not that easy to get people to attend our programme. But we persisted with our efforts and finally people were able to see the new image themselves. The parish community was formed into 16 SCC units, and some awareness and practice of Gospel Sharing was given to them. For them it was a wonderful experience of listening to the Word of God and to one another. Thus the first seeds were sown.
Few months later the whole village was transformed which surprised both of us and the parish priest. People continue to share the Word of God from house to house every week. I was surprised to hear a year later from the assistant parish priest that these groups continue to be active and alive to share the Word of God in every family. And in one year’s time they managed to bring so many adults for Baptism and many marriages were rectified.
The preparation for the diocesan synod in 2000, the seminar on the ‘New Way of Being Church’ in Guwahati by Fr Paul Puthanagady, the Regional Assembly on SCC facilitated by Bishop Bosco Penha and the National Assembly in Bangalore, September 2000 gave me some more conviction that there is no other better way now to renew the Church but through SCC.
i. My Efforts:
Since the year 2001, I was involved as a full time animator for Shillong Archdiocese together with Fr. Vincent Kympat. We launched the first animation programme for the catechists, translating a lot of material in the local language, and conducted a series of awareness programmes. Through these courses with the catechists they helped us to enter different parishes with some Awareness Programmes at the initial stage, and then regular follow up with the AsIPA texts.
ii. Significant Achievements:
- By 2001 we had 10 Parishes with 400 SCC Units.
- By 2002 we had 30 Parishes with 800 SCC Units
- By 2003 we had 42 Parishes with 1,140 SCC Units, out of 44 Parishes.
- The Archdiocese tries its best to concentrate in forming Parish Animation Teams. By 2003 we had 23 Parishes with Parish Team.
- Today Jowai Diocese alone has more than 250 units spread out in all the 11 Parishes within a period of three years (2006 – 2009).
Some of the challenges I had to face were to convince many who were not in favor, to spend a lot of energy to conduct many Awareness Programmes and to make people understand the importance of the participatory approach to building communities, to build animation teams in parishes, to find people willing to attend training and empowering lay leadership.
Lack of support, discouragement and criticism from members of the hierarchy, parishes lacking interest, finding only women and children attending meetings and the rich and affluent staying away from the gatherings, were some of the difficult moments I had to face.
v. Where I stand with SCC now:
Personally, I am convinced that it is only through SCCs that change will take place in the Church and in the society. Because of the conviction that I have about SCCs, I spare no time; I dream sometimes of the impossible dream of transforming the whole Northeast Church into SCCs; but these impossible dreams at times give me new energy and increase my interest and commitment to go on.
SCCs have increased in me love for the Word of God, more love for my apostolate and play my role in a more meaningful and systematic way. I see lot of improvement of a two ways communication between clergy and laity and increased empowerment of lay faithful makes them feel that they are the Church now. There is an increased sense of belonging to the Church and more participation in the Mission of the Church through SCCs.
vi. My hope for the Future:
I wish that SCCs act as leaven for transformation, prayer and reflection, service and involvement at all levels. SCCs should become the Pastoral priority of all dioceses. Parishes or dioceses have to become a model of an authentic “Ecclesial Communion” in a very concrete sense.
A catch phrase about SCCs:
I compare SCCs to a ‘tree of life’ which is Jesus Himself; he/ she who abides in SCCs will be gradually cleansed. He/ she who abides in SCC will bear fruits, fruits that will last to its fullness.
8.Archbishop Vincent Concessao- Delhi
The starting of the SCCs in the Archdiocese of Delhi happened almost unexpectedly in the early 1990s. As Parish Priest of the Cathedral and I realized that the vast majority of our parishioners were migrants and needed to get to know one another to become communities both to live their Christian life and to fulfill their mission of reaching out to others more effectively. But I did not have a very concrete plan to do anything. As I was considering this, I ran into Fr. Thomas Vijay SAC who happened to be staying with us on his way to some place for a programme. As I shared with him my concern, he immediately responded with how we could go ahead with setting up SCCs in the archdiocese to respond to the problem I had shared with him. Immediately thereafter I participated in a couple of courses in Guntur and Goa and got started on SCCs. To my good luck I met Mr. Sebastian who was already working in Chetanalaya and with his help we were able to set up about a dozen Small Christian Communities in the Cathedral parish.
Unfortunately when I was transferred somehow the SCCs were not followed up and as a result they gradually disappeared except the one which was among the domestic servants in one colony. In the mean time Mr. Sebastian got sick and found another job. But then we were fortunate to find Sr. Gemma and thereafter Sr. Suja who tried to revive the SCCs. Thereafter Fr. Ignatius Mascarenhas and Fr. Jose T.J. were the Directors of SCCs and with the help of these four people the communities were set up in more and more parishes.
In the meantime the other three dioceses of the Delhi region also began to set up SCCs though not with much of a success at the initial stage.
Some of the problems that we faced in the promotion of SCCS were the following:
1. The Second Vatican Council’s view of the parish as a people of God responsible for the mission of the church and its implications had not yet been fully registered on the clergy and laity. Hence when it came to participation there were always small conflicts with the existing lay organizations as also with the prevailing practices of the parish life.
2. Apart from this there was the problem of the diversity of language of the people in the neighbourhood. There were English speaking, Hindi speaking and some others who spoke their own regional languages. It was not easy either in some places where the employers had to sit together with their domestic employees and do the Gospel sharing.
3. Availability of time was another problem. People had to come back from work, do the normal chores of the family and then come to the sessions which again were conducted on weekdays with great difficulty. The tendency was to have it on a Sunday which was not convenient for many other reasons. It was not easy to get the participation of many religious either at that time though now they are playing an important role in the promotion of SCCs.
4. Another obstacle that comes in the way is the ritual difficulty. Thought ideally SCCs should transcend these differences, in practice however they find it difficult to do so. This is also connected with the language problem.
The Diocesan Synod which took place in the year 2002 was a significant event with regard to the SCCs in the archdiocese. We had a full time Director, Fr. Wilfred D’Souza with a commission to promote SCCs in the parishes. Thereafter the communities increased consistently and regular training programmes equipped both the clergy and the religious.
After nearly two decades we have made significant growth in promoting and sustaining the SCCs. At present we have SCCs in 61 out of 83 parishes which make 350 units of SCC and family units for Oriental rite churches. Every year we organize orientation programmes for priests and training programmes for parish animators in their own parishes. We organize an annual event known as the SCC Day at the diocesan level to encourage and motivate the SCC animators who work at the grass root level.
We have yet to create a greater awareness of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to Christians and the responsibility that goes with them to utilize them for building up the community through various services that they can render. This is being attended to as part of the Jubilee Year celebration of the Archdiocese. We have to go a long way to establish various ministries for this purpose. However, one cannot ignore the tremendous growth both in the awareness of our laity about their mission and their actual participation in the life and mission of the church. This is certainly true with a good number of our people but it has to reach out to all the Catholics of the archdiocese and the Delhi region.
The present team we have under the leadership of Fr. Wilfred D’Souza & Fr Peter Emmanuel along with his team members are certainly doing a good job in promoting SCCs though some of the old obstacles often come in the way.