By Leonard Ronald Iragaba, CSC
St.Jude Taddeo Kyarusozi Catholic Parish is located in Western Uganda. The parishhas adopted the model of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) for its pastoraloutreach to all the Christians. This paper gives a reflection on how theeffectiveness of the Small Christian Communities can be enhanced to enrich thespiritual life of the Christians.
Iwas assigned to work in this parish for a year as part of my religioustraining. My responsibilities included home visitations. The home visitationswere based on Small Christian Communities. Each time we visited homes within aparticular SCC. On these home visitations we would be accompanied by theleaders of the sub-parish and the leaders of the particular Small ChristianCommunity we would be visiting. We would visit home by home praying with themembers of the household, giving words of encouragement, encouraging theChristians to live a sacramental life, ascertaining their involvement in SmallChristian Community and other church activities and asking feedback from them.
Onthese home visitations I discovered that the Small Christian Communities coverwide areas and have many people. Members of SCCs reach out to each other inneed, whether it is spiritual or material need. For example, they come togetherto raise funds for members who want to wed in the church. They come togetheralso in sorrow to bury their dead members. Furthermore, the Small ChristianCommunities contribute to the building of the church both financially andthrough giving their physical labor for church activities. However, the majorityof the Christians who belong to particular Small Christian Communities do not gatherfor the weekly Small Christian Community Prayer/Bible Sharing services. Moreover, many of the Christians have notcome forward to bless their marriages in the church. Also many homes ofCatholic Christians do not have a Bible.Additionally, I witnessed that few children join their parents in the SmallChristian Community meetings. In a bid to encourage the Christians to be activein their Small Christian Communities, the pastors of the parish have made itmandatory for one to get a letter from one’s SCC in order for one to receiveservices from the parish.
Theparish pastoral team acknowledges the need for the Small Christian Communitiesin the pastoral life of the Church. Thus I would like to give some suggestionsfor improving their effectiveness in the parish and communal life.
First,there is a need to divide the large Small Christian Communities. Mwanajumuiya (member of a SmallChristian Community in Kiswahili) Padre Healey advised us of the need to haveabout 15-20 people in a SCC. This is based on the number of people, not on thenumber of households. The people who live in the same neighborhood can easilymeet in the Small Christian Community. These communities are then encouraged tomeet weekly for the Small Christian Community Prayer/Bible Sharing Services. They will be need to form the Christians onthe different methods of Bible Sharing.More urgently the leaders need to be trained in the basic form of LectionaryBased Bible Sharing. Thus they willbe able to lead their neighbors in the meeting. The people are encouraged tochoose people who are highly motivated and competent to lead them.
Second,there is a need to emphasize the reflection on the Word of God as the soul ofthe Small Christian Communities. Without this the Small Christian Communitiesbecome dead groups without life in them. MwanajumuiyaAlphonce Omolo, a member of the Eastern Africa Small Christian CommunitiesTraining Team, emphasized the need for the Word of God to animate the life ofthe Small Christian Communities. He gave the example of the Youth Fish Group inKisumu — he was instrumental in its beginnings in 1985 – and how it has beenable to continue until today because it is animated by the Word of God.
Third,the outreach of the Small Christian Communities in their neighborhoods will bea source of new dynamism. This translates the Gospel reading into real actionwithin the community. This could include actions like visiting the sick membersof the community, helping the elderly, supporting the welfare of schoolchildren and clearing the bush around the church. This demands creativereflection on how the message of the Gospel can be put into action. TheSmall Christians Communities have to be action oriented otherwise they willdisintegrate easily.
Fourth,the youth could be organized into their own Small Christian Communities. Inoticed that the youth love to listen to the Word of God. Thus it would bebeneficial for them to meet by themselves to meditate on the Word of God together.The YSCCs need to be supported in their beginnings through the training oftheir leaders and provision of some necessities like Bibles. The Youth Small Christian Communities need to be recognizedin the church through their inclusion in the pastoral plan of the parish andbeing given positions of responsibility. The youth also have to be helped toknow how to connect the Gospel reading to life in the community. Theirvisibility in the church will be enhanced by how they put the Gospel intoaction and through their social works, for example, reaching out to other youthwith problems of alcohol, school dropouts and teenage mothers.
Fifth,there is a need for active involvement of the ministers (priests, sisters,brothers and seminarians) in the life of the Small Christian Communities. Thiswould include participation in the weekly Lectionary Based Faith Sharingmeetings of the SCCs and other activities. This could help in knowing the actualneeds of the Small Christian Communities, through training sessions. BishopPatrick Kalilombe, of Lilongwe Diocese, Malawi (died 2012) in the 1973 AMECEAmeeting advised bishops, priests, sisters and brothers to participate activelyin the activities of the Small Christian Communities not as leaders but asordinary members.
Sixth,it is important to draw up a program to have the Eucharist celebrated in eachof the Small Christian Communities. This is a heavy task considering the factthat St. Jude Taddeo is a big parish, but it helps in building in the membersof the Small Christian Communities a feeling that they are all needed and theirwork is appreciated by the church. This builds up the communion of the membersof the SCCs and helps the pastors to know their Christians better.
Seventh,as financial constraints usually obstruct deeper commitment to the SmallChristian Communities, there is a need to encourage and support each SCC tohave an income generating project. This can give employment to some of themembers and also enable the members to contribute to the development of the church.
Eighth,leaders of Small Christian Communities need to consult the members on choosingthe best and appropriate time for their meetings. As the people are mainlyfarmers, there is need for flexibility during the different seasons of the year.The time for meeting during the planting season could be different than during thetime for harvesting.
Inconclusion I hope these suggestions can help the parish leadership in improvingthe effectiveness of Small Christian Communities in St. Jude Taddeo CatholicParish. However, even with these suggestions there is need to discern thegrowth of the SCCs in different parts of the parish. This is due to the factthat the move towards the growth of Small Christian Communities comes from theChristians themselves in a local area. There is a need to be attentive to theSpirit of God moving within the people of God leading them to deeper communionwith God and with each other.
Cooper, M – Healey, J., Small Christian Communities in Africa and Beyond: A Conversation BetweenSr. Marie Cooper and Fr. Joe Healey, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR1ypNUEaAg>, 1/03/2016.
Omolo, A., “Small Christian Communities Light UpNeighborhoods in Kisumu”, in J. Healey – J. Hinton ed., Small Christian Communities Today: Capturing the New Moment,Nairobi: Paulines 2006.
Healey, J.G., Buildingthe Church as Family of God: Evaluation of Small Christian Communities inEastern Africa, Limuru: Catholic University of Eastern Africa Press. 2012.
SeminarianLeonard Ronald Iragaba, CSC