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I remember vividly the first few months of my freshman year of college when I was on the verge of undergoing a deep interior conversion of heart that led me to discover and commit to my Catholic faith in a way I never had before. There were many emotions I was feeling as I gingerly began to foster a deeper life of prayer, but one in particular stuck out — the feeling of loneliness. I knew no one involved in the Catholic circles on my campus, and thus, I attended Mass alone, sitting in the back pew as I tried to catch each person’s eye as they left the chapel, hoping they would see me and talk to me. It was a painful, isolating time. Thankfully, these experiences did not deter me on my faith journey. As my college years went on, I was able to get involved with and experience the truly life-changing power of an authentic Catholic community.

Unfortunately, I know that my experience of loneliness was not unique to me. Broadly speaking, loneliness is a huge problem in our world today. A Meta-Gallup poll recently revealed that one in four Americans feels lonely, with those between the ages of 18 and 29 reporting the highest levels of loneliness.

As Catholics, we have a powerful antidote to loneliness in the sacramental and communal life of the Church. We can find the ultimate love and companion in Jesus, who waits for us in the Eucharist and who longs to be united with us through the reception of Holy Communion. We can find solace in the communion of saints, who offer us heavenly friendship, guidance and assistance. We can take comfort in the communal life of the Church, especially in the sacrifice of the Mass, where we receive our Lord in the Eucharist in communion with our brothers and sisters.

Nevertheless, we know — and many of us know from personal experience — that loneliness still plagues us in our Church today. The difficulty of finding other Catholic friends, the loneliness of a particular vocation — or feeling the lack thereof, and the trouble fitting in at a parish, youth group or college can all contribute to this sting of loneliness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We cannot and should not live this faith alone. No matter our age, vocation or stage in life, we are all called to build and foster a communal Catholic culture as best as we can in our particular communities and circumstances in life. Our Church and our world desperately need it.

Here are seven easy and practical tips for how you can work to build a communal Catholic culture in your parish and community. 

  1. Evaluate a need and take action
    The first step in striving to build a communal Catholic culture is to evaluate where a specific need is in your community and to work to fill it. Does your parish have a young adult group? Maybe you’ve heard from several moms who feel they lack a support group. Maybe you know several people who feel alone in their vocational journey and could benefit from a discernment group. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and action — after all, if not you, then who? Pray on and evaluate what kind of ministry, organization or group you think your parish or community needs, take it to your pastor, and then give it to God, trusting He can and will use all things.
  2. Host a potluck at your house or apartment with people from your parish community
    Don’t wait for someone else to make plans or host a get-together — take the initiative and host one yourself! Consider hosting a potluck as a means to get together. Not everyone can afford to go out to eat, and for those struggling financially, going out might mean having to choose between socializing or saving money. With a potluck, usually, everyone can contribute and feel included. Consider setting up a rotation of people hosting each month to keep it consistent.
  3. Give the sign of peace to someone sitting alone
    The sign of peace is an important part of the Mass, where we exchange our show of recognition and love to our neighbors in the pew. But for those of us who may be attending Mass alone, it can be a painful reminder of our loneliness as we wait for others to finish greeting their families and loved ones. The next time you’re at Mass, consider offering the sign of peace to your neighbor in the pew who is alone first before turning to someone whom you know. This small gesture of recognition to make someone feel noticed and loved can go a long way.
  4. Stick around after Mass
    Catholics sometimes get a bad rap for rushing out of Mass as soon as it is over. The next time you’re at Mass, try sticking around for a few minutes afterward and introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met. Look around the pews for the person lingering behind — there’s a good chance they might be there hoping to talk to someone. Introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met before is intimidating and nerve-wracking, but you never know what friendships can form or what fruits can be brought from a simple hello or introduction.
  5. Go out of your way for someone at the next parish event or group gathering
    In any event, it is common to want to hang out with or stick close to the people you know. But for those attending alone, this can lead to feeling unwanted, unseen, or unloved. Get out of your comfort zone at your next social event, scan the crowd for someone sitting alone or who seems left out of a conversation, and make a point to talk to them. Extend radical hospitality to the person who needs it most, even if it means not hanging out with your friends or family for a little bit.
  6. Invite your parish priest to dinner
    Don’t forget about your parish priest! He may never admit this out loud, but he would love to be invited out for a dinner or an event. Unfortunately, loneliness is a common problem for our priests. Help them feel welcome, seen and cared for by cooking them a meal or taking them out to eat. They will appreciate it more than you can know!
  7. Pray for those who feel unloved or unwanted
    The most powerful thing you can do for someone is to pray for them. Pray a novena or offer a rosary for the friendless and those who feel unwanted and unloved.  

Consider praying this prayer Pope Francis recommended for those who are lonely:

Saint Joseph, you who guarded the bond with Mary and Jesus,
help us to care for the relationships in our lives.
May no one experience that sense of abandonment that comes from loneliness.
Let each of us be reconciled with our own history,
with those who have gone before,
and recognize even in the mistakes made a way
through which Providence has made its way,
and evil did not have the last word.
Show yourself to be a friend to those who struggle the most,
and as you supported Mary and Jesus in difficult times,
support us too on our journey.