The year 2019 was one of special blessings for Sameer Patel and his wife Zeena Lafeer and their sons Zayd, Rayn and Raif, who were baptized as new Catholics at the Easter Vigil in April at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland. Now they begin 2020 with another special blessing – Zeena and Sameer’s baby daughter Zelie, who was born in August and baptized that fall at Little Flower.

Zeena’s parents are both Muslim and are immigrants from Sri Lanka. Sameer, who was also raised in the Muslim faith, has family roots in India. His father is Hindu and his mother is Muslim. 

Sameer and Zeena’s faith journey to Catholicism was inspired by their two older sons Zayd and Rayn, who are students at The Heights, a Catholic school for boys in Potomac, Maryland, sponsored by Opus Dei. The boys like attending daily Mass there, and after inviting their parents to join them at Mass, the Patel family began a faith journey together that led to their reception of the sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation at Easter, along with the family’s youngest son Raif, who was then in kindergarten and was baptized at the vigil.

Reflecting on how he will deepen his faith in the new year 2020, Sameer Patel said in an email interview, “I hope to spend more time practicing the art of prayer, meditative introspection and more regular examination of conscience, because I believe these practices coupled with a good habit of daily prayerful activity is the key to drawing closer to Jesus.”

Sameer, who serves as chairman of the board for the Bristow Montessori School that the family opened in 2010 in Virginia, is also the owner of the Bach to Rock Music Schools. Now he sometimes sings with the choir at Masses at The Heights and at the Church of the Little Flower.

Interviewed along with his other family members after a Dec. 22 Mass at Little Flower, Sameer said another thing he looks forward to in 2020 is “the bonding of my boys with their sister and continued prayerful evenings together.”

Zeena Lafeer and her husband Sameer Patel, who holds their baby daughter Zelie, visit with another Mass-goer after a Dec. 22 liturgy marking the fourth Sunday of Advent at Little Flower Church, joined by their youngest son, Raif. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

As her two older sons took turns holding their baby sister, Zeena said, “This past year was extremely monumental and beautiful, but we didn’t understand the challenges. There’s so much to learn (about the Catholic faith), there’s the pressure how to practice this properly. We want to do it right.”

The Easter Vigil was a powerful experience for her family, she said. “We accepted the grace. Everything was so beautiful and moving.” But with sadness, she noted how on the next day, on Easter Sunday morning in Sri Lanka, the country of her parents’ birth, terrorists bombed churches and hotels there. The bombings left 259 people dead and at least 500 injured. “We take for granted – not everyone has the freedom to practice the faith safely and in peace,” she said.

A year ago at Christmas, Zeena learned that she was pregnant. “She (Zelie) was our Christmas blessing, just to go through the whole year, to know she was coming.”

And she added that now as the mother of a newborn girl and three boys, “My goal is to wake up that morning with that prayerful tone. Mornings are crazy with the range of ages – everyone has different needs.”

Joining Zelie, who was four months old that day, is Raif – who is 6 years old and being homeschooled as a first grader. In the fall of 2020, he will begin preparing for his First Holy Communion, and he looks forward to becoming an altar server at Little Flower like his two older brothers, who began volunteering as altar servers there at the Easter Sunday Mass on the morning after the Easter Vigil.

The family’s two oldest sons Zayd and Rayn, whose own budding faith was the catalyst for their family’s journey to Catholicism, also reflected on how they would deepen their faith in the new year.

Zayd, who is 13 and now a seventh grader at The Heights, said, “I think I’ve been trying this past year to do God’s will (through) prayer and at Mass and in dealings with people. This year, I want to do God’s will in everything I do, whether it’s my schoolwork or my sports or my chores, I’m going to try to do everything to the best of my abilities.”

Rayn, who is 10 and a fifth grader at The Heights, said, “What my teacher talks to me about (is), you should always say ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to God. Just remember to thank God for the littlest things. I’ve been trying to remember to do that. Because our school has daily Mass, I’m trying to remember to go to Mass more, because I think if I go more and I pray more, I can get a better connection with all the saints and angels and God especially, I can get a closer relationship (with God) the more I pray.”

Before the Easter Vigil, Sameer Patel and Zeena Lafeer and their three sons Zayd, Rayn and Raif posed for a family photo in the choir loft of the chapel at The Heights. On the eve of 2020, the family posed together at the Church of the Little Flower, this time joined by baby Zelie, their family’s newest blessing in a year of blessings, who seemed to stare ahead inquisitively.

“Someone mentioned Zelie is our own cradle Catholic, so we have this fervor of doing this as a family, we have to continue so she’s raised in the same spirit,” said her mother, Zeena. 

After the recent Mass at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Zelie Patel, four months old, is joined by her brother Rayn, 10, in the photo above, and by her brother Zayd, 13, in the photo below. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)