táe local people, and allowing for a greater variety more attuned to the needs of relevant cultural expression {Sacrosanctum Concilium, 19, 26-7, 30, 46),

Building upon recent sociological findings, and backed by anthropological and psychological research, the concept of the 'primary group* (characterised by face-to-face relations, the smaller number of persons involved and the intimacy thereby engendered) had begun to hold sway in certain sectors of the church.16 Developing the idea that real community (i.e., true interpersonal relations) can be fostered only in small and intimate groups, there was formulated a critique of the prevailing large-scale parish framework. The conclusions reached were that any concept of the traditional (large-scale) parish as promoting community must be dismissed and such parish structures revised. Instead, a vision of the parish structure as comprising a collection of community-promoting, smaller "cells5 or 'organic communities' was proposed, existing within limits defined by demographic, I eographical and administrative factors.

Responding to the above emphases, and with the need for lay cooptation siill high on the agenda, both the Emergency Plan and the Joint Pastoral Plan set about championing the dual themes of community and participation by means of decentralising prevailing parish structures.17 Whilst not dismantling existing parish boundaries as such, the creation of a grow-mg number of 'pilotVlocalTbase communities' within the broader parish structure was proposed, in which there might be fostered 'a communion of interpersonal life in Christ5, along with an 'interpersonal relationship of love5 (Joint Pastoral Plan, iy). The parish church thereby becomes the 'mother church' (Igreja-Matriz; comunidade Mae), surrounded by any number of comunidades de base {Joint Pastoral Plan, 57-8), Within these 'base communities', 'Christians would not be anonymous persons seeking only a service or to fulfil an obligation [re desobriga], but would feel welcome and responsible, as well as playing an integral part in the communion of life with Christ and with all their brothers and sisters* ( Joint Pastoral Plan, 39). To this end, the traditional large-scale parish is to be transformed 'into a confederation of small base communities5, by which the parish structure becomes 'a community of communities, an overarching community that promotes, interlocks and supports the smaller or base communities*/8

Whilst the Joint Pastoral Plan neither fully defined its concept of the comunidade de base, nor elucidated its precise ecclesiological standing, this omission was subsequently amended by the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops, held at Medeílín (August 196s)/3 Adding little to the understanding of the base community as a micro-environment conducive to intimate contact, interpersonal affirmation and lay participation

{Justice^ 7, 14, 20; Peace, 27; Formation of the Clergy, 2,1), Conference findings did, however, accord the 'Christian base community3 formal and prominent ecclesial status. For those at Medellin, the Christian base community represented 'the first and fundamental ecclesiastical nucleus . . , the initial cell of the ecclesiastical structures and the focus of evangelization, and , . , [currently] .. ■ the most important source of human advancement and development' {Joint Pastoral Planning, 10),

With its ecclesiological credentials now established, and its pastoral effectiveness becoming increasingly evident, the base ecclesial community nevertheless had one more transformative development to make before it could be said to have reached adulthood- This transitional stage from adolescence to maturity took place within a context of heightening repression and economic exploitation, and comprised the shift from a primarily internal emphasis to one of a more balanced approach inclusive of an external orientation.

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