Entering the brand new two-story church building attached to the renovated hall which previously housed the chapel, attendees were greeted by Korean youth bowing in respect to the guests who packed the ground floor pews and upper balcony. San Fernando Region Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, presiding at a concelebrated Mass with nearly 20 clergy — including Benedictine Abbot Damien Toilolo from St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo and Columban Father Gerard Dunne, the center’s chaplain — congratulated the congregation on reaching an extraordinary moment in their nearly 30-year history, which began in 1982 when a small group of people gathered to celebrate the valley’s first Mass in Korean at St. Bridget of Sweden Church in Van Nuys.“I want to express great joy and excitement for all of you here at St. Joseph Korean Catholic Center,” said Bishop Wilkerson. “I’m very proud of all of you. I know that your sacrifice, your great love is a testimony to your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, your willingness to be signs of Jesus here in this place, in this time, in this world. This is just a great achievement.”Plans for an expanded Korean Catholic Center at its Canoga Park building, where members moved in 1989, started in earnest seven years ago. The Valley Catholic Korean Apostolate of 350 families desired a larger gathering space for liturgy, more classrooms for religious education and activity rooms to share with non-Korean groups in the community. The expanded facility, open daily from 9 a.m.-5p.m. and later as needed for evening classes, now has a new office and church on the ground floor and seven classrooms on the second floor, as well as the adjoining renovated hall with a modernized kitchen and four additional classrooms.Construction challenges included the economic recession, an unusually long rainy season and discovery of empty gasoline tanks buried on the property requiring removal and a site clean-up. “Like life, [the construction project] had a lot of challenges along the way, which extended out the time a little bit,” said Gary Stein of Valley Commercial Contractors, who ceremonially handed over the plans and the keys to Father Dunne. “What a wonderful improvement this is over your former facility,” said the bishop at the beginning of his homily, noting the beauty of the Scriptures for the dedication of a new church. “[The readings] say to us that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth,” reflected Bishop Wilkerson. “They remind us that we are built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ as a dwelling place for God; God lives within us. They also remind us that God’s house is a house of prayer for all nations. All are welcome here.“…This building is to help us to be the Body of Christ; this building is to remind us always that each of us must be a light shining in the darkness of our world. If that happens, then today we are the most blest of all people. For today, we have not built a building, we have built ourselves, ever more deeply and surely as members of the Body of Christ.”Father Dunne, who spent 20 years in Korea as a Columban missionary, told The Tidings at a reception in the hall that he thinks the accomplishment of the Valley Catholic Korean Apostolate is amazing considering that “we’re not a big community, about 350-400 families. It was a big undertaking, but everybody supported the project from the beginning.”Koreans, he noted, bring many gifts to the church, including energy, zeal and commitment to the faith. “The Korean Church went through a lot of persecution in the early days, about 250 years ago, but they persevered through that, and they have an enthusiasm for the church,” said Father Dunne.Founding member of the Korean apostolate Chong Yi, 76, who came to the U.S. from Anyang, South Korea, at age 42, said he remembers when the valley group was only 27 people, including babies. “We are all one Catholic [people],” said Yi, whose son is a leader in a Korean community in Bakersfield. “I have a good opportunity to practice Catholicism, here or in Korea. I don’t feel any difference.”Deacon James Lim, 64, another founding member, said the group always wanted to have its own facility. “For the education of our second generation, we always needed some more rooms and space,” said Lim. “[Now] the Korean Catholic community will grow.” He pointed out that Koreans in the U.S. have a relatively short immigration history. “Senior Korean citizens do have some language barriers,” he said. “So, we need our Korean community and we need bilingual priests. We are lucky to have a priest like Father Dunne; he is excellent. We are happy to be with him, and we have our chapel here.”Johnny Kim, 42, who has been attending church at the center with his wife and two children for seven years, said the day was the fulfillment of many people’s hopes.“Just the fact we’re able to have this grand opening today and celebration is a dream come true, going from where we were with the old church, and then the transition where it literally was a pile of dust — we were coming to church and there was dust everywhere — to finally have this christening here,” said Kim. “It’s a joyous and great day. A lot of hard work went into it for several years, but obviously, the payoff is fantastic.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0617/sfkorean/{/gallery}