Thanking God for the good weather, an auxiliary bishop blessed the new meeting hall of the Vietnamese Cultural and Social Center here Saturday in front of an outdoor gathering of several thousand Vietnamese Catholics.
The rain had stopped because "God must be Vietnamese," the Most Rev. Michael Driscoll said, to loud applause from the crowd.
"It has been the dream that eventually there would be a home and place for the Vietnamese community to gather to keep their culture and make it part of American culture," Driscoll told the assembly.
The Diocese of Orange is hoping the renovated cultural center will become a focal point for the county's 30,000 Vietnamese Catholics, said Msgr. Nguyen Tien, the director of the Vietnamese Catholic Center.
"The new center will be a great help to build our ministry and to continue the training of the leaders for different activities among Vietnamese Catholics," Tien said.
Vietnamese Catholic organizations, such as a Vietnamese chapter of the Legion of Mary, and the Eucharistic Vietnamese Youth Movement, have been meeting at the center in the 1500 block of North Century Boulevard for about seven years. But now the drab-green buildings are being torn down and replaced with more spacious beige buildings that resemble a Vietnamese temple.
So far, only the project's first phase is complete: the meeting hall, intended to hold 800 people. The second phase of the project, whose overall cost is expected to total $5.2 million, will involve completion of an administrative wing, which will include living quarters for several of the diocese's 13 Vietnamese priests. The third building will be a chapel to hold 200 people, along with a shrine to the 117 Vietnamese Catholic saints who were martyred for their faith under Vietnam's rulers in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.
The center's new landscaping, which will include plants and flowers from Vietnam, is not yet complete, so families decked out in their Sunday best who came Saturday to see the building's inauguration had to walk gingerly over carpets hastily laid down over thick, slippery mud.
During the morning ceremony, church dignitaries honored local Vietnamese Catholics who donated money to help build the new center and chapel.
A Mass and another inauguration ceremony were held in the afternoon.
An architect, Don Tran, helped design the center's three buildings and grounds to make them look like Vietnamese structures.
"We intended to do that because we would like to retain the culture of our society," Tran said. "And the children, when they're growing up, they won't forget their roots."