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Florida priest, former Vietnamese refugee, named a bishop for Orange, Calif.

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, Calif.

Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him Oct. 6 to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, California. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St. Augustine)

Born in Vietnam, Bishop-designate Nguyen, 64, fled the country in 1979 by boat with his family and spent 10 months in a refugee camp in the Philippines before arriving in Hartford, Conn., in 1980. After brief studies at Hartford State Technical College, he became a math and science teacher in Hartford public schools.

In 1984, he joined the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, studying at Merrimack College and the Weston School of Theology, both in Massachusetts. He was ordained to the priesthood May 11, 1991.

For the next eight years, he worked in parishes in Georgia and Florida. In 1999, he was incardinated into the Diocese of St. Augustine. He has been pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville, Florida, since 2014.

Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine said he learned of Father Thanh’s appointment Sept. 27, the day Pope Francis launched the two-year campaign, “Share the Journey.” The global initiative is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled their homeland due to poverty, violence, persecution, and war.

In 1979, Father Thanh and his family escaped Vietnam during the war. They fled by boat, and after 18 days at sea, they landed on the shores of the Philippines. He lived in a refugee camp for 10 months before moving to the United States in 1980.

“Father Thanh knows the plight of refugees, and he understands their journey seeking a safe home and the ability to support their families,” Bishop Estevez said in a statement. “He has a genuine gift when it comes to ministering to people of diverse cultures.”

“Now that reality is beginning to set in, I need to start the process of letting go and letting God,” said Bishop-designate Nguyen in a statement about his appointment. “Yes, letting go of familiar places, familiar faces, Bishop Estevez, the presbyterate of the diocese, parishioners, and staff of St. Joseph and Christ the King parishes who have played an important role in my priestly ministry for more than 20 years.”

While he was a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette serving in the St. Augustine Diocese, Bishop John J. Snyder, then head of the diocese, named the priest parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville.

In September 2001, Bishop Victor B. Galeone, newly named to head the diocese, appointed him pastor of the parish. Through his leadership and initiative, he brought harmony to the Vietnamese community by celebrating a Sunday Mass in Vietnamese and building a Vietnamese Center where cultural traditions among the youth and elderly are preserved.

As pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Bishop-designate Nguyen has been instrumental in strengthening the faith community by celebrating its cultural diversity through parish events throughout the year. He has also built a social/youth hall and added a youth Mass. The parish is about to launch a $4 million capital campaign for parish improvements.

“Father Thanh has not only promoted unity in the parish, but he has fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than any other parish in the diocese,” said Bishop Estevez.

The Diocese of Orange, headed by Bishop Kevin W. Vann, has a large Vietnamese Catholic community.

The Southern California diocese is the 10th largest in the country and one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has 1.3 million Catholics.

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Thousands at L.A. Mass celebrate immigrant spirit in America

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LOS ANGELES — Pilgrims from all nationalities and backgrounds walked several miles from a couple of different points in Southern California to join thousands of others at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles for a special Mass to recognize all immigrants July 17.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles blesses a girl during a special Mass celebrated July 17 in recognition of all immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles blesses a girl during a special Mass celebrated July 17 in recognition of all immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Participants raised awareness of the need for immigration reform in the United States, calling for solidarity on the issue for all to be merciful and compassionate toward immigrants in this Year of Mercy.

“We celebrate the immigrant spirit of the people of our country. This is the story of Los Angeles, the story of the state of California and the story of our country, which is a nation of immigrants,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the main celebrant of the afternoon Mass.

“We gather to pray for all of the immigrants and their families — past, present and future. We pray for immigration reform in our country, for our elected officials and for people all over the world that they open their hearts to the immigrants who come to their countries,” he said.

The congregation included people from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the Diocese of Orange and the Diocese of San Bernardino.

On July 15 a group from Lake Forest, in the Orange Diocese, began a three-day, 50-mile walking pilgrimage to the Mass

The pilgrimage, called “Siempre Adelante” (“Always Forward”), was dedicated to St. Junipero Serra as it followed part of the same route he traveled with fellow missionaries to found the first nine missions in California.

St. Junipero’s first feast day was July 1; he was canonized last September by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit. The title of the pilgrimage was taken from his motto: “Always forward, never back.”

Before Mass, immigrants of diverse backgrounds shared testimonies including Emiliano Leonides, one of the leaders of the “Siempre Adelante” pilgrimage for a second consecutive year and catechist at Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest.

“I’m here to ask God and all the people attending the Mass in recognition of all immigrants to not forget how much we suffer when pursuing our dreams and crossing the border,” said Leonides. “We are sending the message to those in power that there’s a need to change the laws for a comprehensive immigration reform and stop the separation of families.”

“I am walking with them to raise awareness about the need of a comprehensive immigration reform and to let people know what the Constitution states: that we are one under God. God loves all his children,” said Lily Nguyen-Ellis, also a parishioner of Santiago de Compostela Church. She joined the pilgrimage for the first time this year.

“In this Year of Mercy, I want to show people that immigration isn’t just about talking, it’s about doing, and we’re all immigrants one way or another,” said Nguyen-Ellis. In 1984, when she was 17, she entered the U.S. without legal permission, arriving from Vietnam with her parents and five siblings.

A month before she decided to participate in the pilgrimage and immediately challenged herself to walk at least a couple of hours a day on her own. She ended up seven hours in one day “just to make sure I would be able to walk the 53-mile pilgrimage,” said the 49-year-old hairdresser. It was hard, but worth it, she said.

“We have been helping each other and getting to know each other better,” added Nguyen-Ellis.

At 4 o’clock the morning of the Mass, a group of 20 pilgrims from Holy Family Catholic Church in Wilmington, in the Los Angeles archdiocese, journeyed 20 miles on foot to the cathedral to offer prayers of solidarity for all immigrants.

The group was led by longtime parishioner Maria Mejia, who is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. “Our country has been built my immigrants and as we traveled on foot to the cathedral we prayed for all immigrants and for immigration reform that is just and honors all human life,” said Mejia.

A pre-gathering procession began inside the cathedral just before Mass and included representatives from parishes throughout Southern California and people impacted by what advocates feel is a broken immigration system in the U.S.

The crowd included including DACA students who have benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and parents eligible for the Obama administration’s DAPA program, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

Among others in attendance were families facing separation; refugees and expatriates from different nationalities; and members of the interfaith community.

DAPA and an expansion of DACA have been put on hold by the courts; the plans would temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. President Barack Obama created DAPA and expanded DACA via executive actions in 2014.

During the Mass, prayers were offered in French, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Swedish and English for immigrant families “suffering in the shadows from poverty and brokenness,” according to a news release.

The relics of Sts. Junipero Serra, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Toribio Romo were on display during the Mass and available for public veneration following the Mass.

The first U.S. citizen to be canonized, Mother Cabrini arrived in the United States in the late 19th century to start a ministry to immigrants at the request of Pope Leo XIII. St. Toribio Romo is considered by many to be the patron saint of immigrants.

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Plans to convert Protestant cathedral to a Catholic space

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Catholic News Service

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Christ Cathedral has a multilayered mission — and with the rollout of the new design plans that will transform the former Crystal Cathedral into the mother church of the Diocese of Orange, it has taken a big step toward realizing that mission.

Christ Cathedral, the former Crystal Cathedral, will be transformed into a mother church for the Diocese of Orange, Calif. Design plans for the cathedral, which is the centerpiece of a 35-acre campus, were unveiled Sept. 24. The new design incorporates the elements of a Catholic church, including pews, kneelers, an altar and the cathedra, or bishop's chair. (CNS photo/courtesy Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange)

Christ Cathedral, the former Crystal Cathedral, will be transformed into a mother church for the Diocese of Orange, Calif. Design plans for the cathedral, which is the centerpiece of a 35-acre campus, were unveiled Sept. 24. The new design incorporates the elements of a Catholic church, including pews, kneelers, an altar and the cathedra, or bishop’s chair. (CNS photo/courtesy Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange)

“We’re trying to create a place that is welcoming to Catholics, certainly, but to people of all faiths, and even of no faith at all,” said cathedral rector Father Christopher Smith at an afternoon news conference Sept. 24. “(To let them) know that they are loved by God. That was the central message of Rev. Robert Schuller.”

Designed by architect Philip Johnson to serve Rev. Schuller’s ministry, the iconic structure is the centerpiece of a 35-acre campus that includes seven buildings. When the Diocese of Orange purchased the campus from Crystal Cathedral Ministries in 2011, it began the long process of transforming it to meet the needs of Orange County’s Catholic community.

The first building to be renovated, the Arboretum, is where Christ Cathedral Parish celebrates Sunday Mass; weekday Mass is celebrated in the neighboring Art Gallery. The diocesan pastoral center has moved onto the campus, and Christ Cathedral Academy is now in its second year of educating students from pre-K through eighth grade.

The Tower of Hope, where Eternal Word Television Network and Immaculate Heart Radio will have studios, and the Pontifical Mission Societies will have an office, is under renovation.

And the transformation of the church itself, which closed to visitors late last year, is underway.

From choosing an architect — the diocese hired two, Johnson Fain to focus on the church and Rios Clementi Hale Studios to focus on the grounds — to selecting a liturgical consultant, from approving design ideas to selecting materials, it has taken more than a year to develop the designs that were unveiled at the news conference.

“It’s probably the first time in the history of the Catholic Church taking a major building of worship from the Protestant Reformed tradition and transforming it into a Catholic church,” said Msgr. Arthur Holquin, episcopal vicar for divine worship. “And not just any Catholic church, but a cathedral.”

The great challenge is to respect Johnson’s iconic design, while transforming the space into a Catholic church.

Completed in 1980 and built to seat 2,900 people, Crystal Cathedral was one of the nation’s first megachurches. It is made up of more than 10,000 panes of glass.

With its theater-style seating and focus on the spoken word, the structure lacked many of the characteristics of a Catholic church. Johnson Fain had to develop a plan to incorporate the elements of a Catholic church, including pews and kneelers, as well as those that make a cathedral a cathedral: the altar, the ambo, and the cathedra, or the bishop’s chair.

“Those symbols will speak loudly, clearly, unambiguously” to the church’s catholicity, said Msgr. Holquin.

“We needed to be respectful of this environment (while) integrating these primary liturgical symbols,” he added.

Christ Cathedral will seat 2,100 in an antiphonal design: Worshippers will be seated on the east and west sides of the church, to the side of the altar. It’s a design that hearkens back to both ancient Roman basilicas and the monastic tradition, Orange Bishop Kevin W. Vann pointed out.

Inside the glass structure, a series of quatrefoils will be installed to manage the heat and glare from the sun, as well as to improve the acoustics. Roughly 5-foot square, each quatrefoil is made up of petals that are arranged in a more open or closed fashion, depending on the quatrefoil’s location within the building. The system will reduce the church’s mechanical loads by half, said architect Greg Verabian, a principal with Johnson Fain.

Stone walls also will be added around the lowest levels of the church to improve the acoustics and control the light.

These larger changes, as well as small details, like the pattern on the plaza outside the church itself, are accessible to the public in an exhibit that opens today in the Christ Cathedral Cultural Center.

“It’s very contemporary, yet its imagery is very ancient,’ said Father Smith. “(We are transforming) buildings that are already beautiful into buildings that will carry out our purpose as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.”

 

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