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Korean Americans celebrate 25 years for St. Paul Chung Church in Fairfax

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Jennifer Hwang describes the parish she grew up in as a tight-knit community filled with Korean Americans from all stages of life. Though in high school and college she left the faith, the community of St. Paul Chung Church in Fairfax was waiting for her when she returned. Now she teaches religious education for the high schoolers and helps lead the English-speaking young adult group. “Everyone (at the parish) is very attentive and loving,” she said. “Even though I fell away for a bit, they still were really interested and praying for me. It feels like one big family.”

Hwang and more than 600 members of the Korean Catholic community celebrated the parish’s 25th anniversary with Mass and a reception Oct. 3. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge thanked the parishioners for their witness. “We are all God’s holy family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet at the same time we are ever so grateful to you, the members of St. Paul Chung community, for the rich tradition, culture, history, beauty, music and reverence that you bring not only to your community but to the church here in the United States and to this local church in Arlington.”

Decades ago, Koreans in the metropolitan area attended what is now St. Andrew Kim Church in Olney, Md. In the mid-1980s, St. Paul Chung was established as a mission in the Arlington diocese. Priests from the diocese in Wonju, South Korea, led the parish and continue to staff it. The current pastor is Father Tae Jin “Benedict” Kim. The community traveled from parish to parish to worship each Sunday afternoon until they found a location for their church, bought the land and began building the church.

Thomas Hahn, a member since 1991, remembers watching his children shovel dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony. The church was dedicated by Bishop John R. Keating in 1995 and St. Paul Chung was named a parish the following year. “Among the over 100 Korean communities in America, we are the largest (and) we are one of the few parishes, rather than a community,” said Hahn. “To me that matters a lot.”

In 2006, the parish built a youth center with classrooms and a basketball court. “We built the building without any outside financial assistance,” said Hahn. “That's another thing I'm very proud of.”

Today, the parish has five Sunday Masses for its 7,000 parishioners. As a national parish, it attracts Korean Catholics from around the diocese. The parish has adult continuing education classes on a variety of topics and a Korean language school for the younger generation, in addition to religious education. The parish produces radio segments with messages from the parish priests and also broadcasts television programs from South Korea.

The anniversary Mass was celebrated almost entirely in Korean and was accompanied by a choir, a flutist, a drummer and a bell choir. Many attendees wore traditional Korean clothing. U.S. and South Korean flags flanked the altar, which was adorned by flowers arranged in the shape of the numerals 25.

At the end of the Mass, the parish presented Bishop Burbidge with a certificate signifying that parishioners prayed 1,294,148 rosaries in honor of the anniversary. Several parishioners also transcribed the New Testament in Korean for the occasion. Women carrying fans fringed with bright pink feathers performed a traditional dance for the congregation. At the reception, clergy cut the cake and instead of blowing out the candles, used their hands to fan out the flames.

Parishioner Moon Kim came to the United States with his parents in 1964 and is one of the founding members of the parish. “When you emigrate to this country, everything is strange,” he said. “When you come to the Korean Catholic Church, everybody feels like we are in Korea.” Usually after the 10 a.m. Mass, parishioners gather for lunch and socializing, said Kim. “After six days of speaking English only and working in this country, Sunday feels like coming back home.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021