Journey of an ageing BEC

The Aggiornamento 1976 was the renewal process that the Church in Peninsular Malaysia started and had identified the core need to “build Christ-centred communities”.

Jul 28, 2023

I count myself fortunate to be part of a Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) that celebrated its 43rd anniversary this year, since its formation in August 1980. As far as I know, there are only a handful of BECs that were formed in the early years when the Church initiated Basic Christian Communities (BCC).

This was later renamed Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). It was a novel idea then, and parishes that started BCCs were only guided by one document titled Five Loaves and Two Fishes, produced by the Five Loaves and Two Fishes team in Easter 1980, as a follow through from the historic Aggiornamento 1976.

The Aggiornamento 1976 was the renewal process that the Church in Peninsular Malaysia started and had identified the core need to “build Christ-centred communities”.

In that 134 page-booklet, 12 pages were allocated to Basic Christian community: #15.

The Environment: Why is there a need for local Christian Communities, #16. Some Basic Attitudes: How we should care, share and be concerned with people living in our community, and #17. How to Create a Christian Atmosphere in the Home: Some basic guide on sharing, praying and listening to Scriptures in the community. The rest of the booklet were about the changing role of the Church, Church as a Christian community, Church as servant of the poor, focus on the child, shared prayers, liturgy as a celebration of life, etc.

Guided by Fr Eduard Limat, a French missionary and then parish priest of the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, BCC Medan Damansara (before it was renamed BEC St Joseph), along with several others in the Ampang areas (Kuala Ampang, Ampang Jaya and Lembah Jaya) was formed in the early 1980s. The pioneers of these BCCs had the daunting task of reaching out to Catholics living in their neighbourhood.

Being mindful that Jesus sent His disciples on their missionary work in pairs (Luke 10: 1), the BCC outreach teams also worked in pairs. They walked around the neighbourhood in the evenings after work, or on weekends, looking for tell-tale signs of homes belonging to Catholic families — a crucifix, a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or a picture of the Divine Mercy at the entrance of the homes. That was how my family was first approached in 1981, and we became part of the local Christian community until we moved out 32 years later.

In the first few years of the BCC, meetings (as it was known then) were held twice a month, with some key positions assigned (secretary, treasurer, assistant) and prayers and minutes of meetings prepared. The BCC functioned somewhat like a club or society, with agenda, reporting and food fellowship at the end. Recruiting members was one of the priorities then. At parish level, reports were submitted by each BCC on activities and the number of Catholic families reached.

We had occasional guest speakers (usually priests) that came to enlighten us on specific topics. On those days, attendance was good, almost full house (literally the house would be crowded, with plastic chairs brought out). BCC Mass too was another crowd puller. Food was also plentiful and varied at such meetings. This gave rise to the acronym BCC being “best curry chicken”.

As our membership grew (at least on paper), it was found the BCC now had 80 families. Thus, in 1984, a new offspring BCC was born (BCC Bukit Damansara), with 45 families, after a pastoral visit by the late Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon.

In order to keep the members interested in BCC, meetings were limited to one hour, with a guitarist to lead the singing. Songs of praise and worship were mostly used, followed by sharing sessions and intercessory prayers. In the words of a founding member of my BCC, Lucy Tan, as published in the Golden Jubilee magazine of the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Kuala Lumpur in 2005, “As the months passed, more residents joined the BCC meetings and attendance expanded. One encouraging sign was the presence of youth and children from the resident families. Members of the community became more involved in the life of the BCC. When a death occurred, members of the BCC were there to offer prayer and moral support to the bereaved family, organising the seven nights of prayers and leading the prayers before the funeral.

“With the passage of time, the children became teenagers. Having grown closer together through friendships forged in the community, these teenagers came together to form a youth section of the BCC. The youth were then given charge of organising the programme for some BCC meetings, the annual Christmas children’s party and Christmas carolling within the neighbourhood.

“A ladies’ auxiliary group organised visits to the aged and home bound as the community’s temporal work of charity. In some years, days of recollection were organised by the BCC coordinator. Visits to churches and pilgrimage sites during the Jubilee Year were also done.” Today, 43 years on, the entire neighbourhood has changed. Lots of modern apartments, condominiums and commercial cum residential buildings have taken over. Gated and guarded communities are common. Walking the streets to spot Catholic homes may invoke complaints and suspicions among the neighbours. Singing carols from house to house requires police permits. The homes of our BEC members are now devoid of young voices, except for the occasional visits by children and grandchildren. Almost everyone in the BEC had at one time or another served in the BEC core team. Most of the children who grew up there now live in newer neighbourhoods and have their own families. New owners or tenants seldom come out, or are never seen as they are mostly working or locked inside their homes. Safety and security have become a concern.

During this year’s BEC anniversary Mass on the feast day of St Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the St Joseph BEC Medan Damansara remembered a long list of their members who have departed forever. Like any family, the community has aged. Unless new family members step forward, it will further decline as illness and old age set in. On a positive note, the then youth members who left their coop, have sprouted their wings and hopefully have their own local Christian communities elsewhere. The family has enlarged itself, while the older family members fade away. 

(Richard Chia has been actively involved in Church since young. He held full-time corporate jobs while serving in ministries and groups at various church levels for the past four decades.)

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