In writing about the nation,  and drawing upon concepts coined by Anthropologists such as Victor Turner, Sociologists such as  Benedict Anderson have written about how the idea of a nation is a social construct and is by and large, “an imagined community” – “imagined” because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion.” (Anderson, 15) At the same time, nations are communities ‘because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’ (Anderson, 16). Central to the construction of a ‘nation’ is also the articulation of a ‘mystical bond between people and place’, an immutable relationship between citizens and their country (Penrose, 29). In circumstances where heterogeneous groups are involved, where a shared history is lacking, and where any nascent sense of nation and national identity is threatened by global (sometimes interpreted as western) forces, the bonds between members of the community, and between people and place, is at best tenuous, and requires nurturing. These sociologists have also proposed that identities are conjunctural and socially constructed rather than of the essence and natural (Clifford, 12; Jackson and Penrose; Cohen) and as Lily Kong and Brenda Yeoh, geographers and social commentators have proposed, in “particular times and under particular conditions, the sense of national identity is especially threatened” leading to a stronger “need to foster and assert the sense of identity.” (Kong and Yeoh 3)

If this sounds familiar so far, it is because we have failed to build authentic Christian Communities in our Churches, Schools, Workplaces, and Homes, and at best have created laughable caricatures of Community, in the form of “imagined communities”.  This issue is especially prevalent for the youth and the young adults of the Catholic Church who are leaving the Church in droves as they have found the Church grossly lacking in areas and initiatives where they could meet and socialise with other Catholics, grow together in faith and formation, and participate actively in parish life without the feeling of being coerced into it. This problem has prompted app developers such as Eric Niehaus, a young Catholic who lives in Arlington, Virginia, to create a social app for Young Catholics living in the area, named Koin, after the Greek word for Koinonia, which would allow them to join and create interest-based groups, and plan events together, such as knitting, or hikes, or social gatherings. The creation of the app was an impetus founded upon how the youths and the young adults had a desire to meet with each other and to hang out with other Catholics, but often faced barriers to entry, red tape and bureaucracy, and finding it extremely difficult to do so. According to Niehaus, it seems apparent that our Protestant brethren presented with “strong and near-ubiquitous expectation of active engagement: everyone speaks to each other before and after church; everyone joins a Bible study; everyone hangs out with each other outside of that hour on Sunday”, while the level of community-building engagements in the Catholic Church was at best lacklustre.  Niehaus goes on to say, with much wisdom for his age, that, “Catholics have a comparatively low level of empowerment,” and proceeded to cite a “limited number of opportunities for young adults to participate in parish life”, exacerbated by the compounding issue of “limited resources in parishes to cater to every interest.”

“Most [young adult Catholics] won’t sing in a choir,” he said, but “many would love to host an after-Mass brunch, or go on a hike, or pursue one of their more niche interests that parishes…don’t have the resources to sponsor.” (Roselle)

The challenge is to go beyond the very easy and convenient creation of imagined communities which is already present and prevalent in many parishes. We think and imagine that we are part of a community, we join it whenever it is convenient to us, and it makes us feel good.

There is a deep and profound yearning in each person for connection, to be understood, and to be accepted without judgement, or bias.  Dorothy Day writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” A person can be surrounded by people and yet still very alone and apart from a community. For example, watching a soccer match as fans, we are standing together, side by side, we are dressed the same, we are sporting the same headgear, we are chanting and singing the same anthems, but the cold reality is this, besides the shared experience of fandom, we actually know little if anything at all about the person standing next to us. This idea of communitas makes as feel that we are all one in sharing the same experience; we partake of the same ritual and ceremony -we are cheering on the same side of the team; we are immersed in the spectacle of the event – the mascot dancing at half-time, the cheerleaders swooping in with their sky-high somersaults, the balloons, and the fireworks. Yet, we don’t know anything about the person standing next to us. We appear connected, but in reality we are far apart. This can be found in the context of the Church as well – we are together sharing the same space, we are participating in the same liturgy, we are drawn in by the incense, the music, and the processions, yet we leave the worship hall, knowing anything less about the name of the neighbour who was just standing beside us. Being surrounded be people is far from what a community entails. A community has to do very much with the conscious effort of hospitality, of being present, the practice of compassionate listening, holding space, and intentionally creating opportunities for growing together in formation and faith. Dorothy Day proposes, that a Christian community is built upon the breaking and the sharing of bread and of the Word. “We know him and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore.” (DeLorenzo) As De Lorenzo comments, “What Dorothy Day came to understand is that we do not first know ourselves and then enter into community; instead, we only come to truly know ourselves in and through community. Community is a risk. In particular, we risk giving something of who we are and we risk receiving something of who others are” (DeLorenzo).

An authentic Christian Community does not simply happen by chance overnight. There is a leaf to be learnt and taken from the mission dioceses found scattered across the Americas. A mission diocese is usually a place where the Catholic Church is present, but without a lot of resources. Lacking financial, manpower, ministry resources, these mission dioceses are often unable to provide for the basic needs of the clergy stationed in these mission dioceses. Coupled with the reality of vast geographic space, for example Alaskans have to travel 60 to 100 miles or live in a place accessible by plane, in order to attend the Eucharistic Celebration at the nearest church. The striking reality is that many of these mission dioceses are by-and-large laity-led. A number of these mission dioceses actually have no priest servicing them. Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit has moved powerfully through these communities. Eighty-percent of these laity-led communities in the mission dioceses have joined the community because their fellow Catholics had been powerful witnesses to Christ among them. There is a surprisingly strong outreach component to the poor and the hungry that all members of these communities participate actively in, regardless of how small the community is, the small communities can still reach out to thousands of people in the area, and people are drawn by the fruits and the works of these tireless community members. In these communities, the Christians there truly understand Christ’s mandate to serve the poor, the rejected, and the needy. As Fr. Jack Wall, the president of the Catholic Extension, a society under the Pope’s guidance, which outreaches and ministers to these mission dioceses says, “People really understand that the church is not a member-centered reality; it’s a mission-driven reality. You become a Christian, and you understand that to be a Christian, to be baptised, is to take responsibility for doing God’s work. That is the lived experience of these communities. They know that there will not be church unless they are church together. It is not “my” faith as an individual, but it’s this faith-filled community. It’s less individualistic, and it’s about personal responsibility. ” (U.S. Catholic)

The task and the challenge is to go beyond the superficial and to build authentic communities. This can be achieved in incremental steps:

  1. A community is built on the strength of its outreach to the poor and the downtrodden. People are drawn to social justice and the call to serve the poor and the less fortunate.
  2. There is a need for the members of the community to be true and authentic witnesses to the Gospel and to Christ, drawing others, by attracting them through they live the reality of their faith in action.
  3. The community needs to share its God-moments and moments of Grace within the community and with others beyond the community by being testimonies of how the love of God has been real to the community.
  4. There is a need to share the prayer space and to journey with each other in prayer. Praying for someone else helps an individual move beyond the selfish constraints of the ego.
  5. The laity has to take responsibility of the type of Church life it hopes to see. How dead or alive a Church is is dependent on how invested in the Church an individual is.
  6. The community must serve those at the margins of society, and not be insular-looking and self-congratulatory. It must constantly find new ways to outreach to those at the fringes; to minister to those who have been rejected by society, by being authentic bearers of Christ’s good news.

A Christian Community begins when there is a radical and committed plan to live a life which holistically integrates our faith, with our daily living moments – with God as the centre and foundation, with Christ leading the way. There must be collective spiritual growth as individuals within the community grow closer to Christ and in turn draw others quite naturally by their love and how they live, to Christ.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso: 1983)

Clifford, J. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press: 1988)

Cohen, S.  “Ethnography and popular music studies”. Popular Music 12, 123-138. 1993

DeLorenzo, Leonard J. “The Task of Building Catholic Communities at Schools and Parishes”.  Our Sunday Visitor. 27 June 2019

Kong, Lily, & Yeoh, Brenda S. A… The Construction of National Identity through the Production of Ritual and Spectacle: An Analysis of National Day Parades in Singapore. Political Geography, 1997. 16(3), 213-239.

Penrose, J. Reification in the name of change: the impact of nationalism on social constructions of nation,
people and place in Scotland and the United Kingdom. In Constructions of Race, Place, and Nation (P. Jackson and J. Penrose eds) pp. 27-49. (London UCL Press: 1993)

U.S. Catholic  “Building dynamic faith communities in surprising places”. (Vol. 80, No. 7, pages 1822) June 2015

Rouselle, Christine. “New App Aims to Help Young Catholics Build Community”. Catholic News Agency (1 Feb 2020)