Emphasis on Small Christian Communities (SCCs) at the 2012 World Synod of Bishops in Rome

The World Synod of Bishops on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”[1] took place in Rome from 7-28 October, 2012. All the documentation is on the Vatican Website in the Synodus Episcoporum Bulletin.  The bulletin is published by the Holy See Press Office in six language editions (plurilingual, Italian, English, French, Spanish and German). The key documentation is also available on the AMECEA Pastoral Department Blog on the AMECEA Website including the thirteen interventions by the archbishops and bishops who were delegates at the Synod from the AMECEA countries.

In the intervention on the Continent of Africa Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, the Archbishop of Dar es Salaam and President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM – SECAM) said: “A very fundamental establishment for New Evangelization in Africa is that of Small Christian Communities. These have become living centers of evangelization of the present day Continent.”[2]

The Message to the People of God from the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops contains two references to SCCs:

Number 8 under “The Ecclesial Community and the Many Agents of Evangelization” states:

The role of the parish emerges above all as the presence of the Church where men and women live, “the village fountain”, as Blessed John XXIII loved to call it, from which all can drink, finding in it the freshness of the Gospel. It cannot be abandoned, even though changes can require of it either to be made up of Small Christian Communities or to forge bonds of collaboration within larger pastoral contexts.

Number 13 under “To the Churches in the Various Regions of the World” states:

We look to you Christians, men and women, who live in the countries of Africa and we express our gratitude for your witness to the Gospel often in difficult circumstances. We exhort you to revive the evangelization that you received in recent times, to build the Church as the family of God, to strengthen the identity of the family, to sustain the commitment of priests and catechists especially in the Small Christian Communities.

TheFinal List of Propositions contains three references to SCCs:

Proposition 11 on “New Evangelization and the Prayerful Reading of Sacred Scripture” under “The Nature of the New Evangelization” states:

In consideration of the necessity of familiarity with the Word of God for the New Evangelization and for the spiritual growth of the faithful, the Synod encourages dioceses, parishes, Small Christian Communities to continue serious study of the Bible and Lectio Divina, the prayerful reading of the Scriptures (cf. Dei Verbum, 21-22).

Proposition 26 on “Parishes and Other Ecclesial Realities” under “Pastoral Responses to the Circumstances of Our Day” states:

The parish continues to be the primary presence of the Church in neighborhoods, the place and instrument of Christian life, which is able to offer opportunities for dialogue among men, for listening to and announcing the Word of God, for organic catechesis, for training in charity, for prayer, adoration and joyous eucharistic celebrations… In order to bring to all people the Good News of Jesus, as required by a New Evangelization, all the parishes and their small communities should be living cells, places to promote the personal and communitarian encounter with Christ, experience the richness of liturgy, to give initial and permanent Christian formation, and to educate all the faithful in fraternity and charity especially towards the poor.

Proposition 42 on “Integrated Pastoral Activity” under “Agents/Participants of the New Evangelization” states:

Each particular [local] Church is the primary community of the Church’s mission. It must animate and lead a renewed pastoral activity able to integrate the variety of charisms, ministries, states of life and resources. All these realities must be coordinated within an organic missionary project, capable of communicating the fullness of Christian life to everyone, especially to those who feel themselves far from the Church’s care. Such an endeavor must arise from the dialogue and cooperation of all diocesan components, including: parishes, Small Christian Communities, educational communities, communities of consecrated life, associations, movements and individual faithful.

Other noteworthy interventions and interviews on SCCs and the New Evangelization include:

1.      Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., Archbishop

of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

            Small Christian Communities, established as the most local presence of the Catholic and Universal Church, share this same mission. Small Christian Communities provide an ideal pastoral context to establish and develop lay ministries. One of the most significant differences between traditional Catholic Associations and Small Christian Communities resides in the apostolic orientation of the latter.

Small Christian Communities are not built on the personal holiness of their members but in their humble availability for and faithfulness to their apostolic mission; personal holiness is a requirement and a consequence of the mission, not its final purpose. Small Christian Communities have an essential apostolic spirituality oriented to mission. Without mission, the Small Christian Community, as well as the universal Church, would be unfaithful to its very fundamental vocation of being a witness to the Gospel. This mission becomes a concrete reality with the establishment of lay ministries to be exercised in the restricted area of the community.

            Lay Ministries, therefore, are not to be conceived as accessory or optional activities of the Small Christian Community in order to relieve the work of the priest. They are part and parcel of its life and growth and when ministries decline it is the whole life of the community that declines. Experience has shown enough what religious associations who are centered only in prayer and devotion can become: a sort of exclusive spiritual club for holy members only, more faithful to the minutiae prescribed by the handbook written by their founder than to the demands of Jesus in the Gospel.

            The field is vast and open to pastoral creativity. However, in establishing new lay ministries, care must be taken that the dialogue, consultation and communion with the local Bishop is observed and that a periodical evaluation is performed lest a disparate variety of lay ministries conducted without a common vision and pastoral guidelines may result in creating disconcert and confusion among the people of God.

Such is the main challenge of the New Evangelization. Though a relevant re-education of our Christian people is necessary in the field of lay ministries, it is not certainly from the side of our Christians that objections and resistance to them will come. Christians are eager to participate in a more active way in the life and growth of the Church.

2.      Bishop Bonaventure Nahimana, Bishop of Rutana,  Burundi:

The Small Living Christian Communities need a new breath to play a more prominent role in new evangelization. After the war and the conflicts our country has undergone with all the consequences that follow, we saw the need for a deep evangelization and to involve our Living Christian Communities to deepen the faith and to take care of the life of the Church.

The size of these communities allows the members to know each other

and help each other, to reinforce their cohesion and their communion in a climate of fraternity and solidarity.

They are the place where Christians can live the experience of reconciliation which is first of all achieved in the sacrament of penance so the Church may answer her vocation in being at the service of peace, justice and reconciliation. The Holy Father said that the new evangelization “demands that we be reconciled with our neighbors and that we overcome every kind of barrier, including those arising from language, culture and race” (Africa’s Commitment, No. 169).

Because of the dynamism of their faith and their commitment, these communities are the favorable place for the blooming of priestly and consecrated vocations. Because they favor a climate of prayer for vocations and help parents become conscious of their responsibility as teachers of the faith. These communities are called to associate together for their development to battle against hunger, misery, all kinds of injustices, to better their condition and to find solutions to their problems.

3.      Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião Do Rosário Ferrão,

Archdiocese of Goa and Damão, India:

             The parish is the place where the faithful gather to grow in faith, live the mystery of ecclesial communion and take part in the Church’s mission (cf. The Church in Africa, No. 25). The Church in India has embraced “A New Way of Being Church” through “Small Christian Communities.” The faithful of a neighborhood reflect collectively on the Word of God, pray together and act in solidarity for the integral development and authentic liberation of the human person. Experiencing conversion, growing in the personal encounter of Jesus and recognizing him in one another, the faithful place the various gifts and charisms of the Spirit at the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church and enter into a dialogue of life and action in their own places with people of other faiths.

4.      ArchbishopFrancis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, of Bangkok,


The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand is of the opinion that it is necessary that all the Bishops, priests, men and women religious and the laity be concretely revived in faith and Christian life aiming at “Discipleship and sharing the Good News” with regards to the teaching of the Church, liturgy, life of prayers and continuous formation, using the means of “BEC” (Basic Ecclesial Communities) through coordination of the various Catholic entities and the CBCT commissions especially the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care of the Christians. The parochial community will enable the BEC to be the sign of active life of a parish which will be a new community, “communion of communities”, based on the culture of love and will become a good approach for the pastoral care and evangelization Ad gentes.

5.      Bishop José Dolores Grullón Estrella of San Juan de la Maguana in the

Dominican Republic:

Among the subjects privileged to carry out the new evangelization … are the small communities, formed by a small group of people who gather like the primordial cells of an ecclesial structure to live the faith, train themselves, evangelize and undertake community actions. These small communities are the fruit of a real pastoral conversion.

6. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland:

The culture of individualism can be counteracted by the creation of a variety of new ecclesial communities, not just those of the ecclesial movements, but around our parishes, which will be the building blocks of the Eucharistic communities of the future.

7. Summary of the French-speaking Small Group:

The New Evangelization passes through the parish with a “new face”, capable of accompanying people in faith and the personal and affective world, the thing that is most missing in our society of today. Parishes should be a network of ecclesial communities which, in their concrete settings, sustain faith in Jesus Christ and his followers and, for the same reason, the growth in the overall human dimension. These are the “ecclesial bodies” (the parishes and their communities) to be called to show the Risen Lord who gives life and meaning to existence. Perhaps the most pressing problem of the New Evangelization is the formation and accompanying of these little ecclesial communities.

8. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria’s interview with John Allen:[3]

 The key idea, which has been extremely present in this synod, is the Small Christian Community. Many, many bishops from around the world have spoken about the small Christian communities. We see the need, and we have the desire, not to lose communities but to increase their number. We’re forced to reduce the number of parish structures, with all their administration and expenses, but we want to favor a growing number of Small Christian communities led by laity – laity who aren’t full-time, who aren’t bureaucrats, but volunteers. These are people living in the field, who do what laity in many parishes and other communities already do, which is to take responsibility for a large part of the life of the church, the vibrant aspects of community life. We want to implement more explicitly the great theme of Vatican II: the common priesthood of all the baptized, with the ministerial priesthood at its service, promoting the holiness of the people of God. Laity today – or, I would rather say, the baptized today – are fully capable of being true witnesses to faith in Christ in their daily lives, and therefore in the lives of Small Christian Communities…[In the future] five small parishes in the countryside will form one greater parish. Their facilities, however, could be used to animate some of these small Christian communities.”


The process and results of the synod clarified several important aspects of the praxis and theology of SCCs throughout the world. First, the Synod delegates emphasized the importance of the parish and its rich variety of ecclesial communities in the New Evangelization. One commentary said that the key to New Evangelization is parishes coming to life and offering new forms of spiritual nourishment, sustenance, formation and community. This includes parish-based evangelization, engaging the laity in the task of evangelization and the spirit and practice of the missionary parish.

Second, the synod statements clearly affirm and encourage the importance of SCCs in the parish structure and ministry.  Parish-based SCCs are part of the “new face” of the parish and form the core of this SCCs Model of Church. The parish is a communion or network of SCCs within the “communion of communities” ecclesiology. The patterns vary from dioceses in the countries in the Global South where the numbers of parishes are growing and the parish-based SCCs are central in the pastoral structure and ministry (examples are Eastern Africa, Philippines and Korea) to dioceses in the West where parishes are clustering together with SCCs participating in the pastoral structure and ministry (an example is Austria).

Synod commentaries trace the historical shifts in the growing widespread acceptance of SCCs. At one stage the "base communities" were controversial because of their association with the liberation theology movement in Latin America. Interventions and reports at the present synod suggested that the church has recovered from this hang-up. Now the base communities have become a widely accepted pastoral model (as distinguished from a social action model) in many parts of the continent of Latin America.  SCCs have also become accepted as a key pastoral model in Africa, Asia and even Europe.  In the official summaries of synod speeches released by the Vatican Press Office some version of “small,” “base,” or “basic communities” was used many times.[4]

Again this authoritative voice of the pope and the universal church confirms the direction that the AMECEA countries are taking in building SCCs that are solidly rooted in the parish and in the Bible and that continue to be a key pastoral priority in Eastern Africa.

Taken from Chapter 11 of:

Healey, Joseph, Building the Church as Family of God:  Evaluation of Small Christian

Communities in Eastern Africa, Eldoret: AMECEA Gaba Publications – CUEA Press

DoubleSpearhead Nos. 199-200 (2012). Updated version as of 22 September, 2012

available on the Small Christian Communities Global Collaborative Website at:


[1] See “Small Christian Communities as an Agent of New Evangelization,” by Joachim Omolo Ouko, AJ, Voices of Justice for Peace Regional News, email dated 16 October, 2012.

[2] Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, “Reports on the Continents,” Second General Congregation (Monday, 8 October, 2012), Synodus Episcoporum Bulletin on the Vatican Website retrieved 11 October, 2012, http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_25_xiii-ordinaria-2012/02_inglese/b05_02.html

[3] John L. Allen Jr., “Interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn,” National Catholic Reporter [(NCR] (25 October 2012) on the National Catholic Reporter Website retrieved on 28 October 2012 http://ncronline.org/node/37906

[4] Summary of many articles, reports and blogs by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) in October, 2012 – both in the print editions and the online editions. See especially “Synod Notebook: Islam, Africa, and where are the deacons?” 16 October, 2012 and “Synod: Challenges in Muslim Nations,” 26 October –November 8, 2012, p. 6.