Qwayne Guevara found herself working behind a coffee machine almost by accident. However, this young Catholic youth leader, café owner, and former lawyer is relishing her time making coffees, encountering people and striving to live the Catholic Church’s Universal Call to Holiness.
It’s 7am on a warm summer morning and Qwayne Guevara is already at work in the café she co-owns.
With Christmas approaching, Qwayne says it’s one of her favourite times of the year.
“Christmas reminds me that Jesus came to meet us where we are. Not with a gold crown or flying from the sky, but in an old manger, in our brokenness and mess,” she says.
“I believe we try to meet people where they are. The reality is that our lives can be a bit of mess. We’re called to meet people where they are to share the gift of God’s love and hope that in time, they may experience the joy of knowing that they are deeply loved.”
Qwayne, Local Engagement Leader of Catholic Youth Parramatta and parishioner at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown, fell into youth work and the coffee business unexpectedly.
“My plan for my life and career was law. It turned out differently. I didn’t have coffee experience. However, part of my vocation [as a single woman], I have found, allows for opportunities to serve and create community,” she says.
“There is something about people meeting over food that allows us to create community. We’ve experienced it during our own faith journeys. We were inspired to create that for others.”
For Qwayne, (favourite coffee “soy latte”), the path to part-owning a café was unconventional. As a lawyer, she had worked helping the disadvantaged settle legal matters early in her career.
However, during what she refers to as an “encounter with Jesus” during World Youth Day 2016 at Krakow in Poland, she began to consider a religious vocation more seriously.
“When you encounter Jesus, in many ways, there’s no going back to how life was.”
In fact, she took six months off working as a solicitor, and travelled to the United States with her close friend and, now, café co-owner Raimie Caramancion.
‘Taking Courage’, says Qwayne, as inspired by Mark 10:49, became a key message revealed to her and Raimie.
“We flew to the US and drove across the country visiting convents, speaking to religious sisters and trying to determine if religious life was for us.”
Ultimately, they determined that God was inviting them to pursue other ways of serving while the question of vocation continued to be explored. With that, they dived into the call to build a faith-filled community in Western Sydney.
After months of conversations and research, and with the support of their family and friends, they decided to open Young Lions Café. The café was opened on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2017.
“This is our home, we were raised here” Qwayne says. “We wanted to do something for our community, offer the gifts that God has given us and use our vocation to call people to holiness.”
The community she refers to is part of the Catholic Church’s Universal Call to Holiness (as outlined in Lumen gentium) that says “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity,” be they clergy, religious, married or single people.
Qwayne also looks to Pope Saint John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati for inspiration.
“John Paul II said, ‘Do not be afraid’ and Blessed Pier just had an extraordinary way of being with people. They encouraged young people to follow Christ in radical ways with trust and joy,” she says.
“That’s what we are trying to achieve, encouraging everyday striving for sainthood in those we meet and finding extraordinariness in our ordinariness as the Spirit leads.”
Their work at creating community has been so successful, they were voted the best coffee shop in Blacktown in 2018 as judged by the local community awards. The business now operates five days a week and employs nine people.
Qwayne, a Filipino Australian, is part of the changing face of the Catholic Church in Australia.
According to the Australian Census of 2016 and the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference statistics and research, Western Sydney, the area Qwayne calls home, has the largest Filipino expatriate community in Australia.
The suburb of Blacktown has the highest number of Catholics, 11,950, and also a high Mass attendance rate compared to the rest of the nation.
According to its website, the “Young Lions Cafe, located in the heart of Western Sydney, is committed to serving quality coffee daily, offering delicious food options and radiating goodness to all we meet”.
These three claims are clearly evident when speaking to Qwayne and Raimie’s dedicated team who are constantly laughing, smiling and graciously serving their customers and those who walk by and stop for a chat.
“We chat to people all the time, and not always about religion. However, having the café allows us to speak about Jesus. I believe the community sees that we are not just about the coffee,” she reflects.
In addition to the café, Qwayne juggles her time as a fulltime Local Engagement Leader for Catholic Youth Parramatta (CYP), the youth ministry for the Diocese of Parramatta and co-facilitates a women’s basketball ministry, Embers Basketball.
In her role with CYP, she helps organise events, gives talks on formation and has recently started a podcast aimed at young Catholic women, called ‘At the Well’.
Qwayne says they started the podcast to deal with issues “facing young women, particularly those who are striving to live a life of holiness in today’s society”.
While there are days Qwayne prays and wonders what God’s plan is for her future, she recognises that the role she plays is part of a bigger plan God has to draw people to Him.
“I just feel humbled that God would invite someone small like me to be able to serve His people,” she says.
“Blacktown is such a good community. From the teachers who work at Patrician Brothers, to the teams from different community service providers in the buildings behind us, to the council workers and those who drive from outside of Blacktown to meet us. We are encouraged by these people.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned, over the last few years, it’s that we can’t do life alone. Each of us is a part of the body of Christ. We need others and we need to both encourage to strive for virtues and keep each other accountable. Community is where that happens. I wouldn’t be able to say yes without people around me reflecting God’s love to me, meeting me where I am in my mess, and encouraging me to keep seeking Christ.
“I am blessed to be able to serve this community.”