SCCs in Bombay: A peep into history

Bishop Bosco Penha

Over the years, several people have been asking me how the SCCs started in the Archdiocese of Bombay, and how the idea originally occurred to me. The idea was not mine. It came from Latin America, and it was mooted at the 'Bombay Priests' Synod 1980'. My name got associated with the SCCs, because I followed the decision through, ensuring its implementation. For those who are interested, I am furnishing below a brief review of how the SCCs started in the Archdiocese of Bombay.

A decision of the Clergy

In 1979, at the suggestion of a 'Think Tank', I proposed to the Archdiocese of Bombay that we have, for the first time, a Synod of the Clergy — a meeting of all priests to reflect, discuss and make appropriate decisions about the Pastoral Ministry in the archdiocese. This was very well accepted by the clergy, and the Archbishop asked me to take charge of preparing this meeting, which I did for a year and half. And so the first 'Bombay Priests Synod' was held in the Seminary in November 1980, and I acted as the Convenor. The Synod turned out to be a great success, with almost cent per cent attendance of the pastoral clergy. After five days of discussion, a statement was drawn up, indicating the decisions that had emerged during those days of reflection, discussion and decision.

The very first decision was that every parish in the archdiocese would be divided into Basic Christian Communities. The idea came from Latin America, and was explained in the first working paper of the Synod. The proposal was taken up enthusiastically by all the clergy. This emerged from the observation that the Catholics of Bombay flocked for Masses, novenas and other church services, but did not show much love in action for one another in day to day life, which was against the meaning of the Eucharist, and the spirit of Catholicism in general.

It was difficult to foster coordinated action among people in the large parishes of Bombay, each having several thousands of parishioners. It could be more easily fostered in small communities, where people would come to know each other, and where it would be easier to strengthen the bonds of affection and mutual helpfulness that were to be found in the functioning of these communities in the early Church (Acts 2:43-47 and Acts 4:32-37). In these communities where the Eucharist was celebrated in homes, the people came to know one another, and they developed a marvellous spirit of caring and sharing, so that the miracle was worked that "there was no one in need" (Acts 4:34). We all felt that it would wonderful if a similar miracle was worked in this archdiocese, and so the Synod embarked enthusiastically on the project of Basic Christian Communities. It was also decided that I would do the follow-up.

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SCCs: Source of Strength for Families

Fr Cajetan D. Menezes

Pope Francis, addressing the participants of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family in October 2013, stated that the "family is the engine of the world and of history." A few days later, he announced the plan to begin a discernment process on the pastoral care of families, sending out the Lineamenta for the III Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in October 2014, and the XIV Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world, and that of the Church (Amoris Laetitia 31). "Aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church wishes to help the family" (Gaudium et Spes 47). The Church has a duty to journey with the family at every stage of its development.

Therefore, it must be emphasised once more that the pastoral intervention of the Church in support of the family is a matter of urgency. Every effort should be made to strengthen and develop pastoral care for the family, which should be treated as a real matter of priority, in the certainty that future evangelisation depends largely on the domestic Church. (cf. John Paul II, Address to the Third General Assembly of the Bishops of Latin America, January 28, 1979)

If we want a strong parish church, then we need to have vibrant Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and strong domestic churches. This is possible when we have strong and healthy families.

Effective Pastoral Care needs a "Family Perspective"

We need to keep the family in focus in our pastoral planning in Church set-ups at the parish and at the SCC level. We could define this approach of consciously strengthening the foundation of the Church and society as the 'family perspective in pastoral planning'. Keep your end goal in mind—strengthen the family in every initiative we take in the parish and SCC.

The Church is aware of the current reality of the family

The Church acknowledges the many threats that the family, as an institution, faces in our times: from the materialistic influence of technology and communication, to poor value education at home, caused by both parents working long hours to keep up with the rising costs of living. Besides this, we have the family's income generation choices of overseas and call centre jobs. There is also growing pressure on young people, living in multi-religious countries like India, to choose marriage partners of other faiths, and as a consequence, they could lose their own faith and the opportunity to share Jesus with their children. All these threats are closing in around the Christian family unit, causing it to succumb to the pressures of the world.

The two recent Synods on the Family highlighted the challenges families face around the world. The Church knows the travails of the family. Guided by Pope Francis in his several teachings and now in Amoris Laetitia [AL] - the Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, and St John Paul II's vision expressed in Familiaris Consortio [FC] - the foundational document on Family –we must choose to respond in love and action.

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Small Christian Communities - Witness to Christ’s Mission

Fr Errol D’Lima, SJ

The apostle Paul teaches us that commitment to Christ takes place through baptism. The baptised person is sanctified by the Holy Spirit and becomes part of the Church community. A person takes his/her place in a community, so that each member can share with another the grace and gifts of God. In the Acts of the Apostles 2:42, we read: "And they (newly baptised) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to breaking of bread and prayers." The universal Church is made up of many such communities, and the parish community is the best known. While caring for one another, the members of a community celebrate their unity with one another and with Jesus Christ through the Eucharist. Such Eucharistic sharing becomes more significant and efficacious in the Small Christian Communities in the parish.

In the New Testament, we have instances of Christian communities which are seen as God's own household, so that the example of Jesus Christ— His words and deeds, His signs and wonders—is expressed in the lives of the community members: "…I am writing these instructions to you so that…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15) They not only pray together and celebrate the sacramental rites, but also share their possessions: those who have more offer their largesse to those who lack the necessities of life. "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, as any had need." (Acts of the Apostles 2:44)

The sharing in the Eucharist continues the sharing that takes place constantly in everyday life. In the Eucharist, we symbolise our unity with Christ, and identify with the total giving of Himself to each one in the community, and ultimately, to the Father. What we do in the Eucharistic celebration is meant to reflect our self-offering to God by sharing ourselves with our neighbour. This is what Jesus did during His life, as we read in the gospels. The Small Christian Community can give its members a sense of belonging and the opportunity of sharing with and caring for the neighbour. However, such belonging should not be restricted only to prayer or sacramental worship. At all times and in every situation, community members are asked to be mindful of others and their needs.

If persons belonging to a Small Christian Community come together to celebrate only the sacramental rites, the Eucharistic celebration runs the risk of being a mere external action, and little else. To belong to a Small Christian Community, one must be concerned also about the material well-being of others, and be willing to share food, clothing and even shelter, so that the neighbour can feel the warmth and providence of God in his/her life. On occasion, it will imply giving of one's time to another by keeping company with the sick and the aged, or running errands for those whose are housebound. Small Christian Communities offer a chance of being a 'good Samaritan' to another in need.

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SCCs - The Hallmark of Empathy

Candida Mendoza

Pope John Paul II had expressed strong support for the development of Small Christian Communities over more than twenty years of his pontificate. Here is what he said: "One way of renewing parishes, especially urgent for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities and movements." "The Church as Family cannot reach all her possibilities as Church, unless she is divided into communities small enough to foster close human relationships."

Sacred Heart Parish, Andheri East, under the spiritual tutelage of the SVD Missionary Fathers, is organised into 35 communities, serviced by an army of 300+ SCC animators. It can proudly, yet humbly, be said that we are a parish of people bonded in love to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and strengthening this bond of love are our SCC animators, through their selfless service.

Truly Blessed

The growth and sustenance of the SCC Ministry in the parish over the 22 years of its revival, has had a few challenges, which fortunately were surmountable. We are grateful to the Pastoral Teams year-on-year, who strongly believe in the SCC Movement, and do their utmost to nurture and support the SCCs in every way. With deep gratitude, we place on record, that the Pastoral Team (and it has always been so) attend each and every community monthly meeting which stretches for practically three weeks in the month, given the number of communities and the expanse of the parish. We are also very fortunate to be surrounded by Religious Institutions, and so have Religious Sisters, too, assigned to the communities. The presence of the Priest and Religious Sister(s) is encouraging, and serves to maintain the decorum of the meeting.

Our Modus Operandi

Applying the 'SWOT Analysis' technique to the functioning of the 35 communities, we have been able to identify and segregate the communities needing that "extra push" from the ones that are competent enough to manage themselves. Special emphasis is paid to those communities, to bring them on par with the rest, by the Priest-in-charge. And what better way to achieve this than through regular training? Believing that training is an important constituent of an individual's personal and professional growth, and an effective tool to develop one's competencies, the SCC Animators are encouraged, year-on-year, to attend the diocesan Skills for SCC Animators training programme and enrol for the TOA programme, which are both subsidised by the parish.

We organise regular workshops on topics of a professional genre that equip the animators to conduct themselves efficiently, and handle varied situations in their communities. As recently as July 21, 2019, Bishop Barthol Barretto conducted a workshop for us, which was attended by 172 animators, on the topic: 'Leadership in the Christian Spirit'. Due importance is also given to the spiritual nourishment of the animators through periodic Contemplative Recollections.

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Powerful Christian Community

Fr Dr John Rose, SJ

I had only heard of them, jocularly referred to as "Neo-Cats", before I came to Mumbai, and Fr Lancy Pereira, SJ, the former Principal of St Xavier's College, introduced me to some. They required priests to offer Mass on Saturday evenings. At Xavier Institute of Engineering (XIE), Mahim, the work load is heavy from Monday to Friday, and it has to do with technology, and I longed to spend quality time in prayer during the weekends, which nearly always tended to be busier than weekdays. Here was an opportunity for something spiritual in a quiet way and in comfortable company.

A Close-knit Family

I gradually learnt about the Neo-Catechumenal Way or Community (NCW or NCC) first by celebrating their Saturday evening liturgies on a regular basis, and then by being informed by the members of the NCW about their way of life. They genuinely strive to be ideal Christian believers, as described in Acts 4:32-37, who "were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common."

The members know each other, and there is a great sense of togetherness and belonging. This is also most visibly seen when they gather for one of their member's or member's kin's funeral. A gut level feeling for one another and commitment to the community are the driving force. Luckily, I do not have to prepare a long homily, because those present share their experiences of how God is dealing with them, with even the children chipping in about how they have understood the readings in the light of their school lives. The liturgy moves forward sedately, with many reflections and petitions and long hymns. After it has wound down to the final blessing, all come around the altar, join hands, and sing and sway during the concluding hymn.

Origins of the NCW

NCW members are found worldwide, and I always consider it as a part of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, as they first pray for the Pope and his intentions, and their relatively small number in each country is offset by the intensity of what they feel is genuine Christian life. The movement was started in the 1960s by two Spaniards affected by the plight of gypsies and the poor, who found in Vatican II the inspiration and guidelines to build a concrete and functioning, believing community. There are now about a million members, mainly made up of parish-based groups of about 50 persons each. The NCW nurtures priestly vocations springing up among them, and they operate what are known as Mater Redemptoris seminaries. Those ordained are available to minister to the NCW communities and for appointments in dioceses.

All the NCW communities are under the paternal direction of the 'International Responsible Team' which has three leaders elected for life, and the foundational pillars of their existence are simple, clear and solid: the Word of God, the Eucharist and the Community. Their enthusiasm for each of these, as I experience it at the Saturday Masses, is what gets adulatory attention. There are no legitimate or substantial concerns that are raised about the NCW's relationship to the Church's mainstream or teachings of the Church.

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Loneliness is a human catastrophe – and it’s getting worse

Barbara Kay

Heat waves kill. But selectively. If you're relatively young, healthy and have access to a lake or air conditioning, heat is at worst an irritant. Immobile urban seniors living alone without air conditioning are at risk.

In August of 2003, a dreadful heat wave washed across Europe. Some 35,000 people died; most of them fit the above profile. A disproportionate number of deaths - 14,000 - occurred in France, prompting investigation, which revealed the uncomfortable fact that it was not material poverty that was the key factor in many of these deaths. Rather, it was a form of social poverty; the victims had nobody who cared enough about them to check up on them and alleviate their distress.

Worse, in a way, was the fact that many of the victims did have adult children, who could not be bothered to interrupt their traditional August holiday at the seashore to take responsibility for their parents' needs (some even requested their parents' funerals be postponed until their scheduled return).

Recollection of this desperately sad narrative (which made a huge impression on me at the time, and which I think of every time a heat wave hits us) is included in conservative cultural observer Mary Eberstadt's latest book, Primal Screams: How the sexual revolution created identity politics. (You may wonder what identity politics and the sexual revolution have to do with heat waves in France, but trust me, the link is eloquently charted. )

The chapter in which the heat wave incident features concerns an epidemic of loneliness that is affecting great swathes of the population in countries all over the world. The sexual revolution produced what Eberstadt calls a "Great Scattering"—the result of a breakdown of family as the pillar of society. She says, "(T)he human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialisation that for many people no longer exist."

It was once a great tragedy if one's family was not intact. Now, serial monogamy and one or more divorces is considered normal. It was once quite unusual for couples to choose a life that did not include children. Now childlessness is commonplace.

Where there are children, they are fewer than they once were. Many children have no siblings. Lifetime bachelorhood or "spinsterhood" was once rare. No longer. According to Eberstadt, "loneliness studies" are the hottest trend in sociology.

Her examples, like the French heat wave disaster, make one shudder. Every year in Japan, where childlessness is rampant, some 4,000 elderly Japanese people die without being discovered, until the smell of their decomposing bodies alerts their neighbours. In fact, while obstetrics is fading as a profession in Japan, a new industry has arisen: firms that clean out the apartments of the isolated dead.

Insurance companies are offering policies that protect landlords in case a "lonely death" happens in their building. In Germany, Der Spiegel published an article, "Alone by the Millions", a German Centre of Gerontology report that one in four Germans over 70 receives less than a single visit a month by family or friends, and nearly one in 10 receives no visit whatsoever.

This new form of social poverty is, paradoxically, most evident in the world's richest nations. A May 2018 Cigna poll cited by the author found that nearly half of all Americans report "sometimes or always" feeling alone, and that Generation Z — adults aged 18 to 22 — is the loneliest generation of all.