I was scrolling through Facebook one day and I stopped on a photo of a group of friends I knew. They were laughing and posing happily for a selfie. Having grown up together in the same Catholic Group, these particular group of friends enjoyed a level of intimacy, belonging and close friendship. Plus, the food they were having in the photo looked delicious. Yum char, I believe.
Instantly I felt loneliness creep up on me as these photos cascaded down my Facebook home feed. When you see photos of people in your Catholic youth group having formed their own group, you can’t help but feel lonely.
Finding your niche within your Catholic group is sometimes harder than fitting in in high school. How do you build connections with people who are already so close to each other? Photos of people from your Catholic Group hanging out in their own cliques and groups can only serve as reminder that you still haven’t found your ‘in-group’ within your Catholic group.
Catholic Groups Are Not Just About Faith Formation
Catholic groups encompass everything from youth groups to adult support groups and everything in between. I’ve been told that the purpose of Catholic groups first and foremost is God. Catholic groups provide faith formation, a place to learn about God and grow closer to him. It seems that the primary reason for joining any organized Catholic group shouldn’t be for any other reason other than God.
But I’d like to challenge this presumption.
Yes, seeking to know more about God and improving your spiritual journey may lead you to join a Catholic group. However, the appeal of Catholic groups lies in its ability to provide a place for personal, honest and hopefully long-lasting friendships with like-minded people who are also following Christ. Sometimes we take the ‘Catholic,’ faith formation element too seriously when running our youth groups, at the expense of friend-formation. Focusing solely on the CATHOLIC part of Catholic groups ignores the GROUP aspect.
Why do people join any group, religious or otherwise? People. Friendships. Belonging. God’s greatest gift to us is the ability to love people. John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We naturally desire to connect with people. We want to build personal, fun and authentic friendships with people in these groups. Catholic faith formation can be found in any Catholic Group, but what makes people choose to belong to one group over another is the group itself.
Groups v Groupism
Our Catholic faith embraces everyone, but too often Catholic groups end up divided into little groups and cliques, eroding unity. There’s the popular group which usually has the beautiful girls and guys, the rejected group (those who tried to get into the popular group but failed), the music ministry friends and the long-time friend group (those who have grown up together as friends but don’t let a new person into their group).
Groupism allows loneliness to seep into Catholic groups. You feel lonely when you see photos on your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram of people from your Catholic group hanging out and you weren’t invited. When you’ve tried to build friendships and you still haven’t found your niche within your Catholic group, suddenly a Catholic group can become very lonely. Self-doubting questions about yourself swirl in your head: Am I too boring and quiet? Do I try too hard? Why can’t I make friends here? Unfortunately, if a person doesn’t find belonging and real friendships with people in a particular Catholic group they will simply change groups.
So, here are my basics for tackling groupism and keeping loneliness from invading Catholic groups.
“You can’t expect to be close to everyone” or “people find friends in time” are excuses that don’t address the real problem. As an individual, the first step to stopping groupism is acknowledging its existence. If you spot people who seem left out, reach out.
It’s glaringly obvious when a group member is just talking to you to get you to join. As soon as the new person is no longer interested in joining the Catholic group the biggest mistake is that people don’t actively pursue a friendship with the new person. Secondly if you’re motivated to build connections with people only if they rate a 7 and above on your rating scale in terms of physical appearance or whatever other criteria, anything but an honest, authentic, friendship will develop.
If you’re shy, approaching someone to talk to them will probably make you go red in the face. The solution? Social media. Specifically, Messenger. Message them and get to know them without the pressure of a real-life awkward introduction. Once you’ve broken the ice over Messenger it’ll be so much easier to talk to them in person the next time you both meet.
Youth leaders are well-aware of groupism in Catholic youth groups. That’s why they give you all those cheesy, awkward get-to-know icebreakers. How many times have you been told by a youth leader, “talk to someone new, get to know someone different”? A long time ago that was said to me by my youth leader. Guess what? I didn’t follow it. I wanted to talk to my friends and going up to someone new and talking to them was quite daunting and unappealing. As it happened the woman who I was supposed to be talking to was dropping me home. Forced into conversation during the car ride home I realized that she and I had lots in common. 4 years later she is one of my closest friends.
Catholic groups can be wonderful but also very isolating if you don’t find real friendships with the people there. We all want to love and be loved in return. If you’re reading this and you know someone in your Catholic group who is new or is an existing member who is lonely, reach out.
Photo credit: Eric Ward / Unsplash.com
This post was submitted to Catholic-Link by guest author Winona D’Costa. If you have an idea for a guest article, you can submit it to us here.
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