Building a church of communion, participation and mission


Basic ecclesial communities are the ideal way to enable lay people to actively participate in church activities.

November 30, 2021

Catholics attend mass at a church under construction in Muong Cat parish in Hoa Binh province on November 22. (Photo courtesy of

Father Jean-Baptiste Tran Huu Hanh

The 21st century is the century of the laity, but the laity in Vietnam remain extremely silent. Due to the influence of Confucianism, most lay people have great respect for the clergy, and therefore, they play an essentially passive role in the life of the church, waiting for the clergy to tell them what to do. They lack creativity and participate little in activities.

This is a serious omission for which the primary responsibility rests with the local clergy. It is also because of Confucianism that the clergy often despise the laity, entrust them with few tasks and pay little attention to training them to become collaborators and to share responsibilities with them.

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

In Asian Churches today, the Holy Spirit urges the disciples of Christ to live and witness to unity in local Churches, especially at the parish level, to build a participatory Church where bishops, priests, religious and lay people are in communion, sharing, cooperation and co-responsibility in the mission of evangelization.

There is a need to change the mindset; first of all, the widely held opinions about the laity, from treating them as collaborators of the clergy to accepting them in true co-responsibility in the sensitization and the work of the church, and to promote lay people who are mature and ardent in this respect.

Cooperation and co-responsibility are understood on an equal footing, discussing and implementing together. The Asian Church must be a participatory Church in which no one is left behind.

The entire Church is sent to proclaim and serve the kingdom of God. All members have the obligatory duty to build up the Church and to share the whole mission of Christ. In fact, we are the Church, a community of children of God and of disciples of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, communion in community and mission must be brought together and stand up for each other.

How can the laity actively participate in the activities of the church? From the experiences of other Churches, it is preferable to encourage lay people to form Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). 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 lay people to be closely involved in all activities.

BECs encourage public participation and use all the skills and charisma of each member. Lay people are given a sense of belonging to the Church, are encouraged to participate in the life of the Church and trained to carry out the work of the Holy Spirit in their daily life.

They come together in small groups, celebrating the Word of God and the Eucharist in order to deepen their sense of community and of the apostolate, a leaven that transforms our world.

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

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

In principle, a BEC should be a small community so that all members can get to know each other, take care of each other, meet regularly, pray together, share the Word of God and discuss.

Their field of action covers their entire life. They come to the aid of the needy, visit and comfort the sick and the elderly, help reconcile families in difficulty, jointly undertake initiatives to resist social ills and pay great attention to the studies and entertainment of young people.

They can take turns serving and leading the liturgy during Masses. BEC representatives join parish pastoral councils to be aware of the needs and activities of the parish. In general, they do everything to make the Kingdom of God more visible in their neighborhoods.

In short, every Christian receives a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good. These charisms need to be awakened and encouraged in order to build up the Church.

We often value the Church as a hierarchical structure, but the Church is also a charismatic structure or Spirit. It is the Spirit who breathes new life into the Church, which as a whole is linked and alive by charisms.

Vietnamese people greatly appreciate the kindness and indebtedness between them, so when living far from their home country, they often gather in groups of people from the same hometown to meet their emotional needs.

People all want to be respected, cared for, share and contribute to the common good. In addition, it is a pressing need for Catholics.

In parishes, we see that most parishioners only meet once a week in churches, but they just sit next to each other and take no charge. After the services, they return home, live alone, feel alone and anonymous in the midst of a crowd.

BECs are the place where these human needs are met.

In short, BECs result from the process of returning to the 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 Vatican Council II.

These communities represent the parishes of their territory and express the vitality of the Church in their dynamism. BECs encourage the active participation of all members and use all the skills and charisms of each member. They are an effective way of bringing faith into people’s lives, of living the commandments of love, solidarity and sharing.–


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