A new spring for Basic Ecclesial Communities among Brazil’s Catholics?

After years of decline, Basic Ecclesial Communities are sensing that the time might be ripe for growth again thanks to support from Pope Francis, reports journalist Eduardo Campos Lima in La Croix International (July 28). Associated with Liberation Theology as a theoretical foundation, the Basic Ecclesial Communities (abbreviated as CEBs in Portuguese and Spanish) accordingly met with opposition from John Paul II and Benedict XVI, while some key liberation theology figures were silenced. Once powerful in Brazil and other Latin American countries, after experiencing strong growth in the 1970s the space that CEBs had found in parishes diminished. There were up to 50,000 CEBs in Brazil, and there may now be around 20,000 left. At their 15th Inter-ecclesial Meeting of more than 1,000 leaders of Brazilian CEBs in Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso state, “the need to bring more young Catholics to join them was a central element in the debates,” Campos Lima reports.

Source: Congregation of the Mission.

Celso Carias, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and a longtime CEBs leader, thought that the CEBs would not soon be able to recover the relevance they once had and that there would be resistance against efforts to rebuild them in a more centralized and more clerical Brazilian church. At the same time, “we have a great ally in Pope Francis,” he said. The pope actually sent a video to the July gathering urging the CEB members “to keep working for an outgoing Church.” Moreover, 50 Brazilian bishops attended the gathering. One of them explained that “many people continue to prefer a closed Church, a Church that only looks to itself. We have many barriers to overcome.” Nevertheless, the mood at the assembly was clearly one of planning to rebuild the CEBs.