Every pastoral worker involved with "'small Christian communities" has a different understanding of this new concept in evangelization, says a priest just days after completing a workshop on the subject. Reflecting on that experience in a recent bulletin for priests, he explains the confusion over the precise nature of these communities as stemming from the words themselves; they tell us little of what these communities do. To fill the gaps in our knowledge, he suggests that we see these communities in the same way as we see normal families. In the beginning, children are completely dependent on the parents. Gradually the children begin to enjoy some freedom, which soon takes them into a position of equality, until, finally, the parents are receiving help from the children.
The priest feels this way of seeing the close relationship of clergy and laity, as it is most clearly experienced in these small communities, is more Gospel-oriented than the pastor and sheep analogy, with clergy prominently in the center. Even calling the priest 'Father,' he says, gives an inkling of what the beginning state of these communities should be.
For our writer, the more he thinks about these communities the more convinced he is of their importance, particularly in the evangelizing process; their contribution in furthering this work, he says, can be enormously valuable. Focusing his attention on the laity--they make up the greater part of God's people--he points out that lay people are constrained to live the Gospel-life where they are, in whatever role in life they find themselves. If the pastoral worker sees the laity as a partner, then he will have, the priest says, the right approach to the small communities.
The pastoral work of these communities has to begin from below, with the laity, and be self-starting; if not, the right understanding of the work will not be possible, he says, and the work will suffer. In many parts of South America and Africa, the small Christian community has shown it can be effective, no matter the difficulties faced, when a group of lay people, without the help of clergy, band together to accomplish their pastoral goals.
The priest, mindful that these communities often accomplish their goals without much public attention and respect, recalls that the doctor who generally gets the most attention and respect is the one who saves seriously ill persons from death. But a more wonderful doctor, he goes on to say, is the doctor who prevents the disease in the first place. Although his efforts are not as readily seen as they would be when attempting to cure disease, no one would have to think twice in deciding which doctor's approach is preferable. In the same way, we should become more aware of the troublesome issues now confronting the Church, before they turn into deep seated problems. This task can be ably handled by the small Christian communities, beginning by exposing some of the present problems faced by the Church and by taking steps to keep problems from recurring.
Pope Benedict XVl recently talking to the lay people said the laity should be seen as truly "co-responsible" for the Church, and not just "collaborators" with the clergy. "Co-responsibility requires a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church," the Holy Father said. This is pertinent to what was said in forming Small Christian Communities.