Viewpoint: A “Ministry for Loneliness” (Part II)

by Msgr M. Francis Mannion

In my last article, I spent most of the time dealing with the recently-formed Ministry for Loneliness in the United Kingdom. The new government ministry (department) was set up to deal with the pervasive loneliness experienced by the elderly who live at home and have little contact with the outside world. It was estimated that this was a problem for over 10% of the population.

The Ministry for Loneliness proposed to establish a program which would bring together government, non-government agencies, and churches to create a comprehensive outreach to the elderly.

In this article, I want to suggest some ways in which parishes in the U.S. could attend to this problem.

  • The young would be taught to consider constantly as they grow up their responsibility to parents, grandparents, and other older members of their families and to plan their lives with an eye to being actively responsible for their elders.
  • Households could “adopt” an elderly person or a lonely couple and draw up a plan for their care—assuming their relatives are not taking care of matters. This would involve more than an occasional visit, but would include assistance with food shopping, transportation to church and the doctor, house cleaning, gas and electric bills, and tax preparation.
  • People would reach out to elderly neighbors in times of crisis, especially at the death of a loved one. Here neighbors could be drawn in to provide visits and meals. They would attend the vigil, the funeral Mass, the internment, and the post-funeral lunch—which they would provide if the parish does not.
  • Extraordinary ministers of  holy Communion would ascertain what home- bound parishioners need (beyond Communion), and report to the parish social worker, who would develop a systematic plan to respond to the particular needs of each person.
  • It would not be difficult to organize a prayer chain, which would keep the home-bound in contact with fellow parishioners. This could also create the habit of elderly people calling each other on a regular basis.
  • Young people would be drawn into the ministry of visiting the sick and homebound at least once a month—always with adults. They could be encouraged to call regularly or write occasional cards to those living alone or in a care center.
  • Meals on Wheels programs would be organized or developed so that no one in the area goes without for lack of food. (There is plenty of evidence that many elderly people do not have enough to eat—truly a scandal in a Christian community!)
  • I mentioned a parish social worker. A parish could hire a full-time person to coordinate this ministry. A smaller parish could share such a person with another parish. It might be possible to make this an ecumenical venture, and to work with local government agencies.
  • All this would require a considerable amount of money and a large number of volunteers. As for money, it is relatively easy to raise money for charitable causes.  The parish itself could set aside at least 10% of its budget for charity. This would involve a considerable shift in the parish’s mission and would need a pastor who could lead this ministry with enthusiasm and energy.

Is all this not fantasy? Not if priorities are revamped. The foundation of Catholic hospitals, orphanages, and schools was a major, seemingly impossible, task in the early twentieth century. Anything is possible where there is a vision and a will behind it.

There is mostly nothing new in these suggestions. The ministry already exists to one degree or another. They just need to be intensified and placed at the center of a parish’s mission.


  1. I invite you to consider
    a. printing the Bible in type face < 12 point and on paper that doesn't bleed through as well as USCCB encourage, support and allow the RNAB Bible to be available online so that the vision and hearing impaired people can have their individual limitations accommodated.
    b. encourage, support and allow online offering of Liturgy of the Hours and Daily Mass by USCCB.
    c. begin parish wide celebrations of the Anniversaries of Receiving of the Sacraments – simply by offering a Mass a Month – for all those who will celebrate anniversaries of their sacraments this month – we can begin to move to the foreground and weave into the Liturgical Year – an individuals Sacrament Journey.
    This would be an annual reminder of the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence in our lives. Today, I celebrate, in praise and thanksgiving the 61st Anniversary of the Gift of the Sacrament of Confirmation, a sign of God's love so that the joyful hope of salvation can not be taken from me.
    c. Begin at the parish level to recognize an "emerging" contemplative community. Though some wouldn't even know the terms of monasticism, we are in fact, living a dailyness of prayer and work — in silence and solitude. Yes, and for some even the silence of solitude – not as burden but as blessing.
    d. consider monastic models such as the Carthusians and the Camaldolese and how the parish can support "living psalmody" in their midst. Reframe the parish's perception by considering what can be learned from such as Charles de Foucauld and the Desert Fathers tradition whose hearts rang with the presence of God even in an urban desert.
    e. reach out to models such as Monastery without Walls who have spent years in refining a model new monasticism, to aid people in becoming who they already are. What would this model look like on a parish level.
    f. mmm, this is awkward, for the "newly retired" there is a sudden collision with the question — who am I now, now that I no longer serve as______. It is really entrance into a School…

  2. Further — I invite you to consider rather a Ministry for Fearless Aging

    Cultivate within God’s People a Spirit of Fearless Aging
    that we may bear witness to God’s faithfulness
    and be a Sign of God’s Love

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