Print Version    Email to Friend
The Church must transform society

By Father Desmond de Sousa


Not all social change is acceptable to the person of faith. But social transformation in the direction of the values of the kingdom of God is a faith commitment.

As Pope Paul VI wrote, “At the heart of the world there dwells the mystery of man discovering himself to be God’s son in the course of a historical and psychological process in which constraint and freedom, as well as the weight of sin and the breath of the Spirit, alternate and struggle for the upper hand.”

Although Christianity has taken root in Asia, transition into an indigenous, historical Church of the poor, which demands a shift towards supporting the life-threatening struggles of the more impoverished and oppressed sectors of society, has not yet taken place. 

Small Christian Communities are the foundational structure of the Church of the poor, as they permit the participation of people who are traditionally marginalised.

It is difficult to bring these people together in the geographical area of a large parish community. But the small, human communities provide the space for creativity with a new language, new symbols and new expressions of marginalised people’s cultural identity.

However, these communities cannot remain in complete isolation from their neighbours, especially people of other faiths. They must become the soul and point of encounter for Small Human Communities in a geographic area.

What the small communities learn and experience within themselves as the foundation of the Church of the poor, they begin to share in a dialogue of life with the broader community of people of other faiths.

In practice, it is the challenge to nurture Basic Human Communities as a new operating model of the Church’s mission.

Pope Paul went on to write, “It is up to the Christian communities to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own countries, to shed on it the light of the gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teachings of the Church.”

A network of human communities can create a mass infrastructure that produces a change in people’s social and political consciousness. The main hope of reshaping Asia’s future lies in empowering the people themselves. 

The Christian communities become a school for lay leadership and social responsibility through various ministries at the parish level, by becoming active and conscious subjects in the process of constructing a just and participatory democracy.

This process of popular participation is a long and slow process, whether in the Church or civil society. For several years people have remained passive until there suddenly occurs what is called the “irruption of the poor as subjects of their own history.”

When these counter-cultural, human communities link together into a mass movement, then they participate in the process of transformation of society from below. 

A key concept for understanding the SCCs and SHCs is that of participation. It is within the SHCs that people organise themselves into a mass movement or people’s movement, when all the SHCs network gather together.

This irruption of the poor onto the centre stage of history constitutes a new and authentic democratic movement. It is the breaking of the authoritarian structures within the Church and society, and the emergence of a new operating model with maximum participation of the people, which is the most significant contribution towards the reconstruction of genuine democracy in civil society.

However, this new concept of democracy entails a belief in the capacity of the people to be the subjects of their own destiny. They are demonstrating that they can organise themselves in a way which fundamental problems of society can be solved by themselves. The SCCs in the Church and the SHCs in society comprise the base of this new concept of democracy as genuine participation of the people.

The Church continues the mission of Jesus in which, requires it to structure the Kingdom values of freedom, fellowship and justice based on an intimate, personal relationship with God, as well as making contributions to promote these values in the ordering of human society. The struggle for a new society is therefore a constitutive element of the Church’s evangelising mission. As the Synod of Bishops in 1971 said, “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”

The Church’s specific contribution to a new society consists of inserting the values of the Gospel into human relationships, both personal and structural. Negatively, this will mean prophetically denouncing whatever structures militate against human freedom, fellowship and justice. Positively it will mean joining with all people of good will in promoting those values in society.

Humankind is the Church’s arena and a new society is its agenda. It is at once the privilege and the obligation of the entire people of God to bring about such a new society. UCAN


Redemptorist Father Desmond de Souza is the former executive secretary of the Office of Evangelisation in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference.
He was closely associated with the Churches in Asia from 1980 to 2000. He is now based in Goa.