By Chris Ankah, SVD
The Second Vatican Council made a breakthrough by encouraging the Catholic faithful to be fully incorporated in the Church. The council called the faithful the people of God. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium calls all the faithful to belong to the new People of God and to share in Christ’s prophetic office because it is through the people of God that God’s will can be fulfilled (LG 12, 13). Also, in the Vatican II document on Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, (SC 14), the church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations. It continues that the liturgy is the primary indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit. Therefore in all their apostolic activity pastors of souls should energetically set to achieve this.
Though this call has been made by the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago to incorporate the faithful fully into the life of the church, in my St. Francis Parish in Ghana I think more can be done in this regard through Small Christian Communities (SCCs).
I came to Kenya to learn about Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in East Africa while pursuing my theological studies. I first confused Small Christian Communities (SCCs) with devotional groups in the church but got to know the difference later. I think many people have the same kind of confusion that I had. But coming to learn about Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and their activities in Ruai, Kenya I realize that Small Christian Communities (SCCs) should complement devotional groups in my Ghanaian parish to order to enhance and deepen communion among the faithful as well as to promote active participation of the lay faithful.
My parish is St. Francis Parish in the Diocese of Ho, Ghana West Africa. In this parish there are many devotional groups or societies such as Legion of Mary, St. Anthony’s Guild, Sacred Heart Confraternity, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Knights of St. John and Knights Marshal, etc. These groups create an avenue for the faithful to participate in the life of the church. They serve as a means of enhancing the faith among the lay faithful as they meet regularly to pray. These devotional groups also promote participation in the liturgy as they are given roles in animating the mass. These groups also enhance communion among members.
My Parish (St. Francis) has a population of about 4,000 parishioners and as I pointed out above, there are many devotional groups but no Small Christian Communities (SCCs) or Jumuiya as they are called in East Africa. Though there are many devotional groups to enhance the faith and participation of the faithful in the church, I realize that some lay people do not belong to any of these devotional groups. Those who do not belong to these devotional groups do not participate fully in the life of the church such as animating the liturgy and taking other responsibilities given to various groups. Moreover these people are not well known in the church and so there is not much avenue for them to deepen their faith as they just come for mass and go back home immediately after mass with no much interaction with other Christians.
This sometimes makes them feel alienated. Moreover there is no follow up on them when they are having some difficulties. When something happens to them the church is often not aware. For example, when they are sick or bereaved the church in most cases is not aware and so no one reaches out to them. In addition to the above, their talents and abilities such as singing, organization, leadership, etc. which could be tapped to enhance the growth of the church often go unused as they are not fully involved in the life of the church.
Sometimes even those who belong to devotional groups often do not know parishioners in their neighborhood. Unlike Small Christian Communities (SCCs) that are based in neighborhoods, devotional groups draw their members from the parish as a whole. Another problem with the devotional groups is that people are drawn to one group than to another. As such, some groups have many members whilst others have very few members. For example in St. Francis Parish there are hundreds of members for the Sacred Heart Confraternity, the St. Anthony’s Guild and The Knights while the Legion of Mary, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and other groups have very few members — in some groups less than 15 people.
Also for these devotional groups all their meetings are held in the church premises. They do not meet alternatively in each other’s homes as is done in the Small Christian Communities (SCCs). Since they do not meet in each other’s home they are therefore not much in touch with the situation of their members and there is not much communion among groups with many members. Moreover, those whose houses are far from the church do not frequently attend these meetings of the devotional groups. This has resulted in some becoming dormant members. It is due to the above mentioned points that I suggest that Small Christian Communities should be introduced in St. Francis Parish to enhance active participation of the faithful, lay formation and communion among the faithful.
Introducing Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in St. Francis Parish will really help deepen the faith, enhance fellowship among the faithful and also enhance participation in the church because all the faithful will belong to one Jumuiya or another. The reason being that Small Christian Communities (SCCs) are neighborhood based so all Christians who live in that neighborhood will belong to the Small Christian Community (SCC) in their local geographical area. Also the numbers of the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) are regulated. So there will be no Small Christian Communities (SCCs) with so many members while others have very few members. When the numbers in a jumuiya becomes too big another jumuiya is formed.
Moreover, Small Christian Communities (SCCs) have their meetings alternately in the houses of members. This enables the faithful to know each other and enhances communion. Furthermore all jumuiyas are given roles to play in the church such as animating the liturgy. With Small Christian Communities the potential of all will be tapped to enhance the growth of the church since these potentials will be discovered by the other members of the jumuiya because they know each other.
Additionally devotional groups in their meetings mainly recite their devotions and prayers, without much Bible Sharing or sharing about the life situation of members. In the jumuiya there is a lot of Bible sharing that is connected with the real life situation of the members. This enhances communion because one is known by all the Christians in his/her neighborhood. This removes isolation and promotes follow up and sharing in the life of members when they are sick or having problems.
In conclusion, Small Christian Communities (SCCs) could be used in St. Francis Parish in Ghana to complement devotional groups to order to enhance active participation and deepen the faith and communion of the faithful. The activities of Small Christian Communities are connected with everyday life and create avenues for free sharing and interaction often not available with devotional groups.
Seminarian Chris Ankah, SVD
St. Francis Catholic Church
P.O. Box MA 204
Ho, Volta Region