By Fernando Laily
“A participatory church through Small Christian communities” is our sole objective based on how the early Christian communities lived and formed in the early stages of the church and in the same way how we are focusing to form our Catholic community. Since 1995 SCCs have been introduced in Sri Lanka and the faithful have grown differently. Small Christian Communities build up neighborhood communities in order to strengthen the Catholics in faith, Economically, they uplift their social situation and nourish their spirituality. It is to create a small church within their framework followed by emphasizing the role of the church. Those involved in the process of Small Christian Communities have succeeded in their objectives. The greatest achievement in this process has been that the people have become familiar with the Word of God, improvement in the participation at the church liturgy and growth in lay leadership. At the same time, people feel the need to get together as a community. One more impact of Small Christian Communities is to break the racial differences. It was able to transform the racial system, caste system, and division among the rich and the poor, and it has become a catalyst to unite the two languages Tamil and Sinhala.
The National Chairman of Small Christian Communities in Sri Lanka is Rt. Rev. Dr.Emmanuel Fernando, the Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo. He is a bilingual person and has become the binding force to unite our national body. He is very much impressed by the vision of Small Christian Communities.
The national office of the AsIPA desk in Sri Lanka annually continues to do important trainings for national groups and diocesan groups. Different update programs for priests and religious were done last year for Anuradhapura Presbyterium. This year in June, 2017 there was a talk on Small Christian Communities spirituality to Kurunegala Presbyterium. There is a program for deacons in Kandy National Seminary for those to be ordained this year. The group of sisters who are preparing for final vows will be provided a four-day residential program in September, 2017.
Lay leadership trainings were done to Sinhala and Tamil groups in Batticaloa, Jaffna and Chilaw. This year we have given a special attention to parish team formation in Galle Diocese and Chilaw Diocese. Book publications were not done during last two years due to a lack of funds. Besides there are three national meetings in the year. These are very important occasions. The national meetings evaluate and update the ongoing process in every diocese. We organize these three meetings in three different dioceses. It is to give a boost to the particular diocese. Participants for the meetings are the Diocesan Director, a religious and two lay persons. This is a three day residential program with exposure visits, input talks/symposium and the National Meeting proper.
Every year we select a theme to reflect on and direct the faithful in the communities. So therefore, SCCs in Sri Lanka work together hand in hand. This year being the year of St. Joseph Vaz we focus our attention on the footsteps of Fr. Joseph Vaz who was the pioneer of the Small Christian Communities in Sri Lanka 300 years back. We have already conducted several awareness programs to help people to know about the missionary zeal of the saint.
The third Sunday of Easter is dedicated to Small Christian Communities Sunday by the bishops conference in Sri Lanka. Every year this day has been a great celebration. We have about 2,000 trained leaders who are able to form and maintain cells in the country. They are the main live wire of SCCs.
In the 1990s there was a huge challenge from the Christian fundamentalism in our country that is still continuing. They spread their vices and creating new groups by converting Catholics. So, therefore, Small Christian Communities became a good answer for this problem. Because Small Christian Communities touch every family and persons individually they feel that they are accepted and cared for. Nobody goes away from the church. Our country is a place of many other faiths. So, therefore, many people, even Catholics are used to believe in myths. There are examples where people realize true faith through Small Christian Communities as they developed in Bible sharing.
1. We Catholics in Sri Lanka are a minority group spread differently in different dioceses. So people live in distant areas. Coming together as a group always has been difficult.
2. Regular training is a sine qua non for priests and lay leaders. The time framework of people do not permit us to get people involved frequently. We happen to curtail three day workshops into one day or a few hours programs.
3. The financial situation of the national office is insufficient to do the work properly. The amount allocated from the dioceses is very limited. Foreign funds received since last year have stopped. So we are struggling to manage this huge apostolic work.
4. Formation of Small Christian Communities and its results are long term objectives. Due to various reasons enthusiasm for this slowly goes down.
5. The vision is less understood by the clergy and lay faithful.
6. Caste system and racial differences are still hurting.
7. Migration has badly affected this process in Sri Lanka. Members of the families are not living here. My present parish is an example for this.
Our unity in the Holy Trinity is the nucleus for our Small Christian Communities. Jesus formed faith communities. The early Christians followed his lived experience. Small Christian Community members develop communities that experience the risen Lord in their daily life. So let us pray to build the kingdom of God through Small Christian Communities as a participatory church.
Fr. Fernando Laily
Small Christian Communities SL