There is no doubt that issues of isolation and disconnectedness are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. There is intensifying public dialogue on mental health, the lack of social networks, and a dire need for better support of those most vulnerable.
It is strange to think that in an apparently increasingly connected world with the internet and the proliferation of social media in everyone’s lives, people seem lonelier than ever.
It is not unusual to observe many people nowadays hunched over computer screens and tablets, and fixated on their mobile phones interacting and engaging with others through typed words and emotigrams.
Arguably, basic social human interaction is being superseded and diluted by a default to electronic communication, and one needs to wonder whether social skills, especially among the younger generations, are increasingly in danger of becoming a lost art.
In such a landscape, Catholic life and Catholic outreach programming in Australia has been permeated by a profusion of Catholic lay movements which offer a great diversity of experiences and services to assist Catholics in their faith journey, many of which also manifest as critical social platforms.
If we look at these associations, prayer groups, and faith movements, many target audiences can be most observed as being youth, men, women, parents, families, and children.
Indeed, one of the great successes in this regard since the Second Vatican Council has been the activity of youth groups with very active networks of young Catholics around Australia and indeed globally with World Youth Day doing wonders to inspire many young Catholics to unite in faith.
Similarly, most Catholic parishes in Australia provide a welcoming platform for young families, with children’s Masses and family-oriented prayer groups.
Likewise, there are the traditional and long-standing faith groups for Catholic men and women such as the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of the Southern Cross.
But there is also another significant group in society who are increasingly isolated and seek rapport and affinity with those similar and on the same faith journey. A combination of life circumstances and age mean that they do not necessarily fit in or feel comfortable with existing lay groups.
These individuals do not fit in with the age bracket of youth groups, are not part of a traditional nuclear family unit as a parent, and are also not comfortable in mixing with more senior traditional Catholic groups.
This is an entire generation of vulnerable Catholics of around 35-50 years old, who seem to be a forgotten and as yet uncaptured audience. Caught in an outreach vacuum, these people like everybody else seek a sense of belonging.
However, it is not just about an age bracket that defines this group of people but also a set of specific life circumstances.
According to the ABS, alarmingly it can be estimated that around one in three marriages in Australia will end in divorce which, compared with other countries, is extremely high.
In conjunction with this finding, the ABS noted that the median age at divorce for males was 45.2 years of age and the median age of females was 42.5 years of age for those divorces granted in 2014.
No doubt most people can identify immediate friends and colleagues who fall within these unfortunate statistics. Not to mention those individuals who have not gone through the formal court process and instead have separated from their spouses on their own informal terms.
According to the same statistics, people are also entering marriage later in life and it is thus becoming increasingly common for those aged in their thirties and older to have never been married, and to remain single for longer.
Single, separated or divorced or never married, and middle-aged, this is a generation and group who represent not an insignificant proportion of our surrounding community.
Social isolation and lack of connectivity is already endemic for these individuals who exist within some sort of outreach vacuum more broadly in society.
But for those who are Catholic, identifying social platforms with those of faith and those whose unique life matters and context are similar, is even more challenging.
This is an outreach issue stemming from a growing and well entrenched social phenomenon and it is arguably one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Without any overt signals or messages from the Catholic Church that actively seeks to embrace this forgotten and vulnerable generation, the opportunity for them to grow their relationship with God will diminish further.