How to Build Community in Your Parish

As vaccination numbers go up, Covid cases go down, and more aspects of society open up again, many people will be eager to experience a sense of community once again. But after more than a year of separation and social distancing, many may be wondering where to start. After a year of being apart, how can we build Catholic communities that serve not just our parishes, but the world?

Fr. Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco, stopped by The Inner Life® recently to discuss the importance of community, and how to build a Catholic community within your parish.

Josh Raymond, host of The Inner Life, is a convert to Catholicism and pointed out that those who enter the Church at Easter are often need to be guided and welcomed into the parish community. The strategies for helping new Catholics become integrated into the parish community can also be helpful for those looking to re-enter in-person parish life after a year of virtual participation.

Father Illo said, “One of the ways that I’ve found to really initiate people, to integrate them into a community, is before the end of the RCIA year to have a class dedicated to the apostolate. What kind of work will you do for God after you are baptized or received into the Church?”

The most fundamental Catholic community that we can build is in our own families. Father Illo encouraged families to pray together, attend Mass together, pray the Rosary together, and do apostolic works together as a family.

But if you’re looking to reach outside your immediate family and become part of a parish family there are a number of ways to do that.

Father Illo said, “The best way, I think, is serving the poor. Most parishes have some kind of outreach like St. Vincent de Paul. We feed the street people on Skid Row here in San Francisco on Sunday afternoons, we bring clothing and blankets to them. So there are lots of ways we can help the poor.”

A good place to start is to find what community groups already exist within your parish, to see if one might be a good fit for you. Does your parish have a Bible study group? A Rosary group? Moms groups? The Knights of Columbus? A Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference? If nothing seems like it’s right for you, think of what you can start.

Father Illo shared, “We have a lot of young adults here in San Francisco and so we have a pretty strong young adults group. But one of them said to me the other day, ‘I’m not a young adult anymore, but can we start a hiking group?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be your first member!'”

But building a parish community need not be confined to just the parish. Is God calling you to be the Body of Christ in your workplace or local community?

“One of my parishioners is a firefighter here in San Francisco and he’s the head of the Black Firefighters Association,”  Fr. Illo said. “They do a leadership training for underprivileged kids in the city every summer, and the parish supports that. So there are many ways within the parish, and also within the larger Body of Christ.”

But why work toward building or joining your parish community in the first place? Fr. Illo explained that community is a necessary part of being Catholic, and a fundamental part of being human.

“The foundation of this is that we are called to community,” he said. “Everybody, by the fact that they are human, is wired for relationship. Because we are made in the image of God, who is a community of persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

“So it’s not just a hobby or a nice thing to do, to be involved with other people in prayer and service work. It’s essential to our health as human beings, and parishes are a big part of that.”

Listen to the full conversation with Fr. Joseph Illo below:

The Inner Life airs weekdays at 11:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.