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7/23/2014 7:50:00 AM
Brooklyn bishop, Korean Catholics celebrate long-awaited parish center
Catholic News Service photo
Yoousoon Cho sings during a confirmation Mass for the Korean-American apostolate at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Woodbury, N.Y., in 2010. Korean-American Catholics are worried about relatives in South Korea in face of threats of war from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Catholic News Service photo
Yoousoon Cho sings during a confirmation Mass for the Korean-American apostolate at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Woodbury, N.Y., in 2010. Korean-American Catholics are worried about relatives in South Korea in face of threats of war from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Catholic News Service

FLUSHING, N.Y. — Hundreds of Korean Catholics gathered July 20 on the grounds of St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Church here for the ribbon-cutting and blessing of the Father Thomas Chong Education Center.

Parishioners welcomed Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to celebrate the 11 a.m. bilingual Mass, after which he blessed the nearly 15,000-square foot center along with a new rectory -- a $3.5 million building project funded entirely by the parish and its people.

St. Paul is it is one of the largest Korean Catholic parishes in the U.S.

"It's my pleasure to be with you today to inaugurate your new facilities," the bishop said. "Your sacrifices have certainly taken root and produced something beautiful."

First envisioned in the early 1990s, the center has been several years in the making. After receiving diocesan and city approval, construction began in February 2012, and is scheduled to be completed in September.

When it is finished, the education complex will contain a chapel, a seminar room, 16 classrooms, two teacher conference rooms and a practice space for the choir. It will replace the church basement as the site for religious education and RCIA classes, Korean School and meetings for various parish societies, including more than 40 separate Legion of Mary groups, and an 80-member youth group.

Adjacent to the education center, the new rectory features living quarters for the four priests on staff as well as a kitchen and common room.

Joseph An, building committee president, said the parish raised the funds for the building project through parish bazaars, golf outings and fundraisers in addition to receiving 1,242 individual donations. Parishioners also dedicated more than 2 million decades of the rosary to the construction of the new facilities.

"This is a necessity," parishioner Andrew Cha said of the education center. "We are glad to have more room to gather and grow."

"I'm very happy we finally have a place to go," said Michelle Mun, 16, youth group president.

She explained in an interview with The Tablet, Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper, that limited space in the parish basement meant that young people had to keep meetings short, schedule gatherings around other events or get together off premises.

"Now we'll have a place where the kids can be on Sundays," added parishioner Mary Moon, who leads the Legion of Mary for English-speaking young adults. She looks forward to seeing children and teens come for Mass and religious education and then stay to play basketball with friends.

Moon's roots run deep in the parish and her family is proud the center will honor the legacy of the late Father Chong, who served in the Brooklyn Diocese and continues to be well loved and respected.

The priest founded St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang parish in 1973 to meet the needs of the growing Korean immigrant population in Queens. He chose to name the parish after his own ancestor -- one of the 103 Korean martyrs canonized in 1984.

"Father Chong laid the foundation of this community," said Father Andrew M. Kim, who arrived as pastor last year. "Forty years ago, he came to Rego Park to form a prayer community. A few families gathered in the beginning and then they grew."

Today, the parish has 3,000 families and the center will serve not just those families, Father Kim noted, but also the larger community.

While much of the space will be dedicated to catechesis and Korean language and cultural education, the center also will be the site for the legal, medical and social services offered at the parish every week.

"More and more people are coming here for help," said Father Kim, who noted that the Chinese community is growing alongside the Korean community in Flushing. "We have lots of volunteers but we needed more space."

The bishop joined the pastor and parish leaders after Mass in processing to the construction site for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. The bishop then toured the two facilities, sprinkling holy water on the bare walls as he admired the spacious rooms.

"Your parish of St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang has been like a mustard seed," the bishop said, referencing the parable in the morning's Gospel passage from Matthew. "It was very small in the beginning but now it is so large you had to build a new parish center and rectory.

"The church and the kingdom of God rose among you," he said. "It's really wonderful to see your growth here in Flushing."

Bishop DiMarzio and guests then enjoyed cultural music and dancing from Pung Mul Nori, a group of students from the parish's Korean school, along with traditional fare, including kimchi, beef and rice and chilled cucumber and seaweed soup.

Watching the festivities, Simon Young T. Cho, former parish council president, said he sees the new center as a tremendous achievement for his generation and a substantial gain for the next.

"We want to keep people in the church, educate them and see them continue to come back," he said.

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