“According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.” – American Psychological Association. This is a report from 2019 about the rising levels of social isolation and loneliness experienced in the United States. It is not something new, and as days and years progress, it is likely to get worse if we do not act now. So how does the Catholic Church respond to such increasing levels of isolation?
Fortunately, the Church has discussed accompaniment as a solution for a very long time. Most recently, it has been discussed at great length throughout the papacy of Pope Francis and in the recent synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. As recently as last year, Pope Francis in Christus Vivit talked extensively about the Church’s role in preventing loneliness in young people. Still, as the study above shows, loneliness is not something that only young people experience. Pope Francis talks about the untethering and uprootedness of people in this way:
“We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people since so many have a real sense of being orphaned. … To all these orphans – including perhaps ourselves – communities like a parish or school should offer possibilities for experiencing openness and love, affirmation, and growth. Many young people today feel that they have inherited the failed dreams of their parents and grandparents, dreams betrayed by injustice, social violence, selfishness, and lack of concern for others. In a word, they feel uprooted.…The experience of discontinuity, uprootedness, and the collapse of fundamental certainties, fostered by today’s media culture, creates a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose.” (Christus Vivit 216)
So what does this mean for our parishes or for us as Catholics? Each one of us is called to accompany others on the journey of faith. Christ himself modeled this with his disciples and has charged us to do the same. Accompaniment is fundamental to Christianity. It means building an “intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” To begin, I would suggest first taking a look at your immediate circle of connections. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. should be your first group to encounter and accompany because they are the people you organically have relationships with each day. These are the people most likely to open up to you if they are experiencing troubles. Even then, it is essential to listen and provide a connection to Christ and the Church community. The role of accompaniment in giving someone a link to the broader Catholic community is vital, and acknowledging every baptized person’s role in this calling is essential. As the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church discusses, accompaniment can serve as a powerful avenue to welcome and keep someone in the Church in ever uncertain times and events in someone’s life. It can lead to a deeper connection to Christ, a fuller integration into the world at large, and a more authentic sense of their mission to serve Christ and the Church (Art of Accompaniment, 19).
Every day there are more and more people who are experiencing isolation, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. This has only been exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic. Current events, personal circumstances such as their health, and many other factors can contribute to feelings of isolation. During this time, I invite you to pray about different ways you can accompany those who are feeling lonely. The Catholic Church can be a refuge in this storm of isolation and meet people where they are. Even if someone is lonely, as one of God’s children, they are never alone, and it is our job as Catholics to remind them of that fact.
For more resources on accompaniment, please click here.
For more resources to accompany you during the coronavirus, please click here.
Jonathan Sitko is the Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Church Management from Villanova University.
In the movie The Farewell, the central plot hinges on the question of an individual vs. communal approach to the burden of end of life care. One of the central characters has cancer, and the issue surrounding the family is whether the person with the disease should know or not. In the US, as the movie acknowledges, such duplicity would not be likely to happen, but in China, where the movie takes place, society often allows for such things because they believe the burden of suffering is to be carried by the family and friends rather than the sick or afflicted. I found that to be a fascinating concept because most of us have experienced the loss of someone due to cancer, and the question of death and mourning is a very present concern to all of us. I would recommend viewing the movie, if for nothing less than to understand the potential hardships of walking with someone who is about to die and with those that love them.
Our faith acknowledges that our time on earth is not all that there is, but rather that we are made for heaven and joining God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: “The Christian funeral is a liturgical celebration of the Church. The ministry of the Church in this instance aims at expressing efficacious communion with the deceased, at the participation in that communion of the community gathered for the funeral, and at the proclamation of eternal life to the community (CCC 1684).” As Catholics, we believe that there is life after our life on earth. So the funeral and death itself serve as reminders of the Paschal Mystery and our hope for all—and in particular, those who have just died—to have eternal life in heaven with the Lord. The prayer spoken while receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday is a poignant reminder of this: “Remember you are dust and from dust, you shall return.” Time on earth is fleeting, but time in heaven is eternal.
As Catholics, we are part of a community of believers. We must not only accompany the one who is preparing to die, but also those who the deceased is leaving behind. This is not the responsibility solely of the priest or deacon presiding over the funeral rites, but rather a shared responsibility of all the church. The Catechism goes further to explain that funeral ceremonies have the Eucharistic Sacrifice as a critical component because: “It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who ‘has fallen asleep in the Lord,’ by communication in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him” (CCC, 1689).
It is essential as a community of faithful to also accompany those left behind who are grieving the loss of a loved one. This grief is normal and completely human, but it means that we need to accompany those grieving and serve as a living reminder of Christ’s presence in their lives. We are called to serve as witnesses to those we encounter daily, whether we know them well or not. As stated in the book the Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church: “Witnessing can be effective even if a deep, committed relationship is not yet formed…witnessing demonstrates an example of an integrated Christian life within the one who witnesses. … Witnesses are essential to the process of spiritual accompaniment because, ‘modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses (Evangelii Nuntiandi)’ (Art of Accompaniment 16)” Times of suffering and hardship are especially profound moments for evangelization and witness. As a Church, we can offer hope and healing to those who are dying or grieving the loss of a loved one.
For more resources on Accompaniment, please click here.
Jonathan Sitko is the Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“I am the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)
This passage from Mary’s fiat was the theme of this year’s World Youth Day (WYD). World Youth Day 2019 took place from January 22-27 in Panama City, Panama, where it gathered hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to share in the faith, culture, and joy of the Catholic Church. WYD is a pilgrimage for young people that includes times of reflection and prayer that often results in lifelong shared experiences with other people. Many people, myself included, couldn’t make such an international pilgrimage this year. Instead, I joined over 1,500 young adults from 20 different dioceses in the US for Panama in the Capital at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A stateside gathering like this is intended to carry the spirit of World Youth Day to people much closer to home, while also modeling the solidarity of the Catholic faith with those around the world who gather in God’s name.
The Catholic Apostolate Center was asked to be a co-host and platinum sponsor of the event. Our role in Panama in the Capital helped the Center live out part of our mission of spreading the Gospel and increasing the awareness of the importance of young adults and their faith journeys within the Church. For us, it is as simple as Pope Francis said during the close of WYD: “You, dear young people, are not the future but the now of God. He invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents, your elders; to stand up and with them to speak out and realize the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you.” For the Church, the importance of evangelization through the current generation of young people is critically important for the vitality of the Church in the present and for the cementing of the future of the Church.
We were fortunate to have our Director, Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. give a presentation on how to lead as a Christian. Various staff were present to cover the event digitally for pilgrims. Our staff were asked to serve as Masters of Ceremonies during the event at the St. Vincent Pallotti Stage, and so Blog Editor Kate Fowler and Administrative Associate Brian Rhude volunteered their talents to welcoming presenters and musicians alike to the stage throughout the whole event. We were able to exhibit and provide resource materials for people in the area, as well as share in the general excitement of the event. Monica Thom Konschnik, the Center’s Assistant Director of Administration, had been working with the event’s planning team for 18 months when we finally all gathered together to celebrate.
Fr. Frank was able to give some remarks to the gathered attendees for the Vigil Mass and also served as a concelebrant for the Mass. In the evening, staff were invited to assist in the candlelight Stations of the Cross in the Crypt Church in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, presiding. It was a wonderful event that was reminiscent of what happens at World Youth Day with the Holy Father. All in all, our young adult staff was present and contributed to this event with a sincere appreciation of the Church in its mission to evangelize. We were honored to make this international event more accessible to young people locally and pray that this experience helped many encounter Christ and celebrate the joy and wonder of World Youth Day.
Questions for Reflection: What is your experience of World Youth Day? How can you show solidarity with those present at WYD within your local community?
To learn more about WYD, please click here.
Jonathan Sitko is the Assistant Director of Programs for the Catholic Apostolate Center.