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Catechumens and candidates gathered during the Rite of the Second Scrutiny during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. Ten people at St. Norbert anticipate joining the Church at Easter.
Catechumens and candidates gathered during the Rite of the Second Scrutiny during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. Ten people at St. Norbert anticipate joining the Church at Easter.
Photo Credit: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review

The power of personal invitation

Catholics-to-be at St. Norbert highlight the power of personal invitation as they prepare to enter the Church at Easter

Djalma (Alex) Waibena found his faith family at St. Norbert Church through the power of a personal invitation.

The power of personal invitation Catholics-to-be at St. Norbert highlight the power of personal invitation as they prepare to enter the Church at Easter BY JENNIFER BRINKER [email protected] Djalma (Alex) Waibena (right), his wife Alilima (Esther) Laouno and 11-month-old son Daniel (left) joined sponsor Emily Senghor (center) during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. The couple are among 11 confirmands who participated in the Rite of the Second Scrutiny during Mass.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
A native of Togo, Waibena came to St. Louis about 10 years ago. His wife, Alilima (Esther) Laouno, and their daughter followed several years later. Through a friend hosting him in St. Louis, Waibena was introduced to Charles Gbebey, who is part of the St. Louis International African Catholic Community at St. Norbert.

Gbebey personally invited Waibena to Mass at St. Norbert. The ministry offers Mass monthly in French — Waibena’s native language — as well as Mass in Swahili and a Unity Mass that brings together the entire African Catholic community.

“It was a Lenten time like this,” Waibena said of Gbebey’s invitation. “I would say it wasn’t the first time he invited me. A year before, he had talked about it, but I didn’t take it seriously. So he came back again, and

Hunter Hogan, 15, and Deacon Bill Twellman posed for a photograph after Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. Deacon Twellman invited Hunter to attend Christian initiation classes after noticing him at Mass.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
that was finally the time — I had spoken to Esther about it — and I was like, OK yeah, we’ve got to go.”

The power of personal invitation Catholics-to-be at St. Norbert highlight the power of personal invitation as they prepare to enter the Church at Easter BY JENNIFER BRINKER [email protected] Djalma (Alex) Waibena (right), his wife Alilima (Esther) Laouno and 11-month-old son Daniel (left) joined sponsor Emily Senghor (center) during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. The couple are among 11 confirmands who participated in the Rite of the Second Scrutiny during Mass. PHOTO BY SID HASTINGS FOR THE ST. LOUIS REVIEW Djalma (Alex) Waibena and wife, Alilima (Esther) Laouno, center, posed for a photograph with Sylvie Kagarama, left, after Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. Kagarama helped the couple begin Christian initiation.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
The African Catholic Community settled into its home at St. Norbert in Florissant in 2022; previously, it was at the now-closed Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann. The community represents nearly a dozen African countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Togo, Nigeria and Mali. Father Peter Faimega, a native of Nigeria, serves as pastor.

Waibena attended a Catholic primary school. As a teenager, he was baptized and received his first Communion at a parish in Kara, Togo. His wife had visited a Catholic church near her hometown of Baga, but she didn’t receive the sacraments.

Hunter Hogan, 15, and his father, Sean Hogan, joined other worshippers during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. Hunter is among 10 catechumens and candidates at St. Norbert who are expected to join the Church at Easter.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
While visiting with Sylvie Kagarama, another member of the African community, the three got to talking about what it would take for them to become full members of the Church. The couple had assumed it was out of reach and didn’t think to ask about it.

“Sylvie said, ‘Let’s call Father Peter and ask him what we should do,’” Waibena recalled. “He’s really phenomenal and always trying to help.” The priest connected them with Chris Meyers, who coordinates St. Norbert’s faith formation ministry, to learn about Christian initiation classes. At the Easter Vigil this year, Waibena anticipates his confirmation, and Laouno will receive all three sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, first Communion and confirmation.

The African community at St. Norbert has encouraged the family as they walk alongside them, Waibena said. Several fellow parishioners are helping the couple plan a ceremony in May to have their marriage convalidated in the Church.

“We are feeling like we are at home,” Waibena said. “Sometimes here, we can celebrate (Mass) in French, and we feel like we’re celebrating Mass in Togo. When I came here, I saw a big difference — here you see many people who look like you. It’s a diverse community. That’s what made me say, ah, this is the right place to be.”

One-on-one encounter

Djalma (Alex) Waibena, center, and his wife, Alilima (Esther) Laouno, sitting, joined sponsor Emily Senghor, kneeling beside Waibena, and other worshippers during Mass on March 10 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant. The couple are among 10 catechumens and candidates who participated in the Rite of the Second Scrutiny during Mass.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
Deacon Bill Twellman has been a longtime fixture at St. Norbert. So he can easily spot when someone new is sitting in the pews. Last summer, he noticed a young man in his teens who had been coming to Mass for several weeks, but every time at the reception of Communion, he would present himself with his arms crossed for a blessing instead.

“For all of us in the clergy, we see those people in church who are not familiar faces,” Deacon Twellman said. “Here was a situation where I recognized an unfamiliar face over a period of time and so I went up to him after Mass and introduced myself.”

Djalma (Alex) Waibena, Alilima (Esther) Laouno and their son Daniel Waibena, 11 months, attended a Christian initiation class March 7 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
Hunter Hogan comes from a nondenominational faith background, but about a year and a half ago, he attended a Catholic funeral Mass for his grandmother. The sights of the church’s stained glass windows, the sounds of the pipe organ and the smells of the incense intrigued him.

“It’s all these things around you that engage the faith and uses all of the senses,” the 15-year-old said. The presence of the Eucharist heightened a sense of reverence, too. Hunter asked his parents, who were not involved in a church community, if he could continue going to Mass.

The family eventually moved closer to St. Norbert, and Hunter began attending Mass there. That’s when Deacon Twellman noticed him and asked if he’d be interested — with his parents’ permission — in attending Christian initiation classes. Hunter is preparing to receive all three sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil this year.

Deacon Twellman doesn’t believe he was the catalyst that brought Hunter to the Church — the interest was already there. But the simple act of inviting someone to come and see encouraged the young man to do something about it, Deacon Twellman noted.

“In my 20 years of being ordained, I have seen a shift in people’s comfortableness — people who are comfortable talking about their faith, and I think that’s the Holy Spirit working,” Deacon Twellman said. “We as Catholics need to be open to that.”

Opportunities to make a connection are presented in simple moments, such as getting together with someone for a cup of coffee, attending a fish fry, or sitting next to someone at a CYC sporting event. “You don’t have to present the catechism—just be there for them,” Deacon Twellman said. “It’s not going to be some grand plan, no magic pill that brings people back. It’s a one-on-one encounter that can make a lot of headway in building the Church.”

Hunter Hogan, 15, smiled while attending a Christian initiation class March 7 at St. Norbert Church in Florissant.
Photo Credits: Photo by Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
Now that Hunter is attending Christian initiation classes, he sees more clearly that the Catholic Church is exactly where he wants to be.

“The number one point that drew me toward it is that it’s founded by Jesus,” he said. “The theology is perfect, and everything makes sense to me. The Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ; it’s the Last Supper all over again.”

That’s something that he’s looking forward to receiving at the Easter Vigil.

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