Editorial | Help address chronic loneliness

Parish programs use untapped volunteers, facilities to reach out to the community

Social isolation — the absence of social interactions, contacts and relationships with family and friends — is a public health crisis with mortality rates comparable to cigarette smoking, lack of physical activity and obesity, according to a recent warning from SSM Health News.

The article cited reports from the American Psychological Association that found chronic loneliness occurs when there’s a lack of emotional, mental or financial resources to meet a person’s social need. Health risks are heightened. Depression, poor sleep quality, impaired decision-making, cardiovascular issues and declined immunity are among the negative health consequences.

Also cited is Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, who finds that good relationships determine what makes a meaningful and healthy life. Simply put, those who are more socially connected live longer.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see parishes and parishioners reach out with programs for the broader community. A monthly Senior Citizen Luncheon put on by volunteers at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in St. Charles, detailed in this issue of the Review, is one such program that is making a difference.

The program reaches out to seniors, from St. Charles County and beyond. Many of them have active social lives but some have few opportunities to get together with others. The volunteers, many of whom are retirees, make a point of conversing with and befriending the guests. It’s a great use of a parish facility and volunteer power that otherwise was untapped. It’s certainly a way of showing respect for life.

Other parishes also make use of their resources in connecting with people in their neighborhoods, especially elderly residents. St. Joseph Parish in Imperial opened a new parish center last year for parishioners and others to come together for what its pastor, Father Daniel Shaughnessy called “authentic community in Jesus Christ.” It’s even evident in the archdiocese’s mission parish in Bolivia, where a program brings women together to make crafts.

In a new video on “Putting the Joy in Christmas,” the Little Sisters of the Poor give the example of Jesus’ mother, Mary, who in her relationship with Elizabeth and others sets out with a sense of purpose and serves with the selflessness proper to love.

The advice the Little Sisters of the Poor: Share the love of Christ that is overflowing from your heart experienced in the sacraments.

Joining or starting an outreach effort is ideal. But you don’t have to be part of or wait for a formal program in order to make a difference. Surely there’s a distant family member, long-forgotten friend or neighbor who is lonely. Visit them or invite them to an activity.

The Little Sisters of the Poor serve elderly people around the world. But they point out that serving others works both ways. If you’re an older person, volunteer where there’s a need or extend an invitation to a younger family member or neighbor to visit. Drawing together young and old, the Little Sisters of the Poor explain, brings the joy of Christ’s presence because He promised that wherever two or three gather in His name, He is there.

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