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Catholic Teaching on Small Christian Communities

Small Christian Communities – What Church Leaders are saying

Pope John Paul II has expressed repeated and strong support for the development of Small Christian Communities over the more than twenty years of his pontificate. Here is a sampling of his statements:

"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.

"It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allows for true human relationships. This will make it possible to live communion more intensely, ensuring that it is fostered not only ad intra, but also with the parish communities to which such groups belong and with the entire diocesan and universal church.

"In such a human context it will be easier to gather to hear the word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of this word and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ."

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation
"The Church in America," 1999

“The Church as Family cannot reach all her possibilities as Church unless she is divided into communities small enough to foster close human relationships. The characteristics of such communities are:

  • they should be places engaged in evangelizing themselves, so that subsequently they can bring the Good News to others;
  • they should be communities which pray and listen to God’s Word;
  • they must encourage the members themselves to take on responsibility and to learn to live as Church;
  • they reflect on different human problems in light of the Gospel;
  • these communities are to be committed to living Christ’s love for everybody, a love which transcends the limits of the natural solidarity of clans, tribes or other interest groups.”

John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation 
“ Ecclesia in Africa” 1995

“So that all parishes of this kind may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster … small basic or so-called ‘living’ communities where the faithful can communicate the Word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization in communion with their pastors.”

John Paul II, 1988
Christifideles Laici – The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful
in the Church and in the World

“ Above all, it makes me very happy to renew now the confidence which my memorable predecessor, Pope Paul IV, manifested in the small Christian communities.”

John Paul II 1980
Message to the Brazilian Groups

“These communities will be a place of evangelization, for the benefit of the bigger communities, especially the individual Churches. And, as we said at the end of the last Synod, they will be a hope for the universal Church to the extent:

  • that they seek their nourishment in the Word of God and do not 
    allow themselves to be ensnared by political polarization or 
    fashionable ideologies …;
  • that they avoid the ever present temptation of systematic protest and a hypercritical attitude ….;
  • that they remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church, thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves …’
  • that they maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to His Church, and with the magisterium which the Spirit of Christ has entrusted to these pastors …;
  • that they never look on themselves as the sole beneficiaries or sole agents of evangelization … [and] accept the fact that this Church becomes incarnate in other ways than through themselves;
  • that they constantly grow in missionary consciousness, fervor, commitment and zeal;
  • that they show themselves to be universal in all things and never sectarian.”

Paul VI -- 1975
Evangelii Nuntiandi
On Evangelization in the Modern World

Bishops Conferences

“Many Catholic adults already meet regularly in a variety of small groups for encouragement to better life their faith in the world and to build community. In their various forms these groups provide genuine support to people in living their faith in daily life.

“Small communities are powerful vehicles for adult faith formation, providing opportunities for learning, prayer, mutual support, and the shared experience of Christian living and service to Church and society. Ecclesial movements and association that are part of the vibrant life of the Church make great contributions here. We welcome this phenomenon as “a sign of the Church’s vitality, and have offered guidelines for authentic small faith community development in Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium and in Communion and Mission.”

US Bishops – 1999 
Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us
A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation 
in the United States

“ Many older people turn to parishes and parish-based small groups to find the community they need. As a family of families, the parish connects older adults with each other and with other generations. The parish provides spiritual and sacramental nourishment as well as social and service opportunities. Even here, however, some older people feel isolated or excluded. If you are confined to home or to an assisted living facility, parish visitation teams can keep you connected with the faith community. They staff and residents of such a facility might become another community for you.”

US Bishops – 1999
Blessings of Age, A Pastoral Message on Growing Older
Within the Faith Community

“Small church communities not only foster the faith of individuals, they are living cells which build up the body of Christ. They are to be signs and instruments of unity. As basic units of the parish, they serve to increase the corporate life and mission of the parish by sharing in its life generously with their talents and support.

“In all cases, authentic small Christian communities are characterized by obedience to the word of God, common prayer; a commitment of time to one another for building personal relationships, meaningful participation in the life of their local parish, some form of apostolic mission to the wider society, an adherence to the Catholic faith, and an explicit relationship of communion with the Church.”

US Bishops – 1995
Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium

“Small church communities engage in evangelization as an ongoing process with life in a missionary community calling the members to constant conversion. This implies an encounter with Christ and an openness to allowing the reign of God to penetrate and guide one’s whole life. To remain faithful to any evangelization efforts, missionary church communities need to make solidarity with the poor a priority. This helps the community endure and retain sight of its ultimate goal of communion and mission. A community mature by being missionary; otherwise, it becomes self-serving and self-destructive.”

US Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs – 1995
Communion and Mission: A Guide On Small Church Communities

We note with great satisfaction that the parish is becoming a dynamic community of communities, a center where movements, basic ecclesial communities, and other apostolic groups energize and are in turn nourished.”

World Synod of Bishops on the Laity -- 1987
The Laity, The Parish Message to the People of God

“It is evident that the small communities, above all the Basic Christian Communities, encourage stronger interpersonal relationships, acceptance of the Word of God, review of life and reflection upon reality in light of the Gospel. They accentuate one’s commitment to family, work, neighborhood and local community …”

Statement of the Latin American Bishops Conference

Into the Breach Men's Conference

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