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Jesus taught Quyen the lessons of love

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As a young girl growing up in Vietnam, Quyen Phan would hear prayers echoing from her nearby Buddhist temple.

Entranced, she would take a boat to pray, following what she thought was her calling to eventually become a Buddhist nun.

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One fateful morning, the tiny boat sank.

“You’re not going to the temple anymore,” said her father.

“That was God’s way of saying, ‘I have different plans for you,’” recalls Quyen.

Those plans soon saw her joining the mass exodus of refugees leaving Vietnam for a new home in Australia.

As a young adult, Quyen met her fiancee, a factory worker and Catholic.

“The natural progression was that after two years, if I wanted to get married in a Catholic church, I should be a Catholic,” said Quyen, still a practising Buddhist.

She enrolled in an RCIA course to begin her journey, but without a translator and because of her poor English, she found it a difficult entry point.

She persevered and soon found herself enriched by her new faith, and embraced her new Catholic life and parish, All Saints’ Liverpool.

But something stirred inside her as she visited the Sacred Heart parish in nearby Cabramatta, where her relatives lived.

Here she observed, with pride, how devout the community were in their faith.

“They go to daily Mass, and even after Mass they’re sweeping the garden. They’re very faithful, it was beautiful to watch,” she said.

Quyen wanted to help this growing Catholic community, recalling her own difficulties with the English language.

As a young girl growing up in Vietnam, Quyen Phan hoped to become a Buddhist nun. God had other plans for her. Photo: Anthony Milic/Sydney Centre for Evangelisation
As a young girl growing up in Vietnam, Quyen Phan hoped to become a Buddhist nun. God had other plans for her. Photo: Anthony Milic/Sydney Centre for Evangelisation

“I need to go, father,” she told her parish priest, Fr Paul. “He said, ‘I know the Spirit sent you. Go, and I’ll support you.’”

She volunteered at Sacred Heart Cabramatta as a catechist, helping to translate the Gospel for children new to Australia.

She took up the call last year to lead a small prayer group using the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation’s Parish Renewal Team’s Lenten Companion.

“I became a bridge for the Vietnamese community!” said Quyen.

Quyen has now been leading the prayer groups, consisting of about 20 participants, for more than 18 months. The participants also had a retreat day in October, 2023.

Quyen believes she has helped to make disciples in the Vietnamese Catholic community, particularly among the elderly.

But her biggest reward was the conversion of her own parents.

“My parents converted to Catholicism and got baptised at the age of 79 and 78!” said Quyen.

“My father said, ‘Quyen, all my life, your mother and I, we never taught you the lesson of love,’” she said.

“‘But you were the person who taught us the lesson of love. That’s why we know God. We love God. And now I’m happy to go and be with him.’”

The Director for the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, Daniel Ang, believes Quyen’s journey “embodies the richness of Catholic life in Sydney.”

“The way in which Quyen’s faith has touched the lives of the Sacred Heart parish at Cabramatta, her own parents, and no doubt generations of her family to come, speaks of the power of evangelisation, which is always personal—one person sharing with another where they have encountered the love of God, truly good news,” said Daniel.

Now, Quyen marches forward in her faith, with even stronger conviction.

“I am embarking on the Arete course. I wish to learn more and be a better leader. To glorify him every day and in every way,” she said.

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