By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Siblings Lena and Lele Nguyen began attending Mass with their mother, Christina, after she joined the Catholic Church last year during the Easter Vigil Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. This year, it was the sisters’ turn.
Both girls were drawn to the Catholic Church because the rest of their family, including step-father Chau Tran, two younger siblings and many of their friends also are Catholic. And while Lena and Lele enjoy participating in youth activities at Sacred Heart and attending religious education classes, they have an even more compelling reason for becoming Catholic:
“I wanted to do this so I could get closer to my faith and closer to God,” said 12-year-old Lena, a seventh-grader at Williams Intermediate School in Davenport.
“I wanted to learn about God and get closer to him,” said Lele, 16, a sophomore at West High School in Davenport.
“They really encouraged each other throughout their journey in learning more about the Catholic faith,” said Susan Stanforth, the cathedral’s pastoral associate. She met weekly with Lena and Lele to help them become more familiar with the Church’s teachings. The sisters were also enrolled in religious education classes at Sacred Heart.
Their meetings with Stanforth started with a prayer. “As we continued to meet, the prayers became more in-depth,” she said, adding that the girls created prayer journals, which they used at home together. They also prayed together before bed.
The sisters became active in youth ministry, attended retreats and service activities and helped the Vietnamese Catholic Community celebrate the Vietnamese New Year. “They were involved in both the Anglo and Vietnamese community activities,” Stanforth said. The Vietnamese community welcomed the sisters and Loan Nguyen and Kimberly Truong into the Catholic Church with a celebration in the parish hall following the Vietnamese Easter Sunday Mass.
Lena and Lele were among five teens or pre-teens Stanforth worked with this year. “They were all on their own journey and starting from different points,” she said. So meeting with them separately was important. Her flexibility was worth the extra effort.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to watch all of them and remember when I first started interacting with them in the fall and see how far they’ve come on the journey,” she said. “They’ll continue to grow in their faith and we’ll continue to grow with them,” she said.
“I always talk to the teenagers about how I’ve learned more about my own faith by working with them. It’s not just me teaching them about the Catholic Church. They’re helping me to grow closer to God and to the Catholic Church as well.”
Just like the adults who entered the Catholic Church, the youths will undergo a period called mystagogy, the ongoing instruction in the mysteries of the faith that follows reception into the Church, Stanforth said.
“They’ll be encouraged to continue to be a part of the Sacred Heart community and share the gifts that God has blessed them with in different ministries.”