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1,700 Help Dedicate New Orange Church

La Purisima, at 16,500 square feet, seats 1,200, a welcome change for a congregation that had outgrown a former structure.

June 05, 2005|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

An estimated 1,700 parishioners and guests gathered Saturday in the historic El Modena district in Orange to dedicate La Purisima, the Diocese of Orange's newest church whose diverse congregation had outgrown its quarters.

"May this building enable all who celebrate the faith to be witnesses to the Gospel," Bishop Tod D. Brown told the ethnically diverse, standing-room-only crowd that spilled out the doors of the mission-style, 16,500-square-foot, 1,200-seat church.

The building took $6.3 million and two years to build.

"It's not your little neighborhood church anymore," said Father Chris Heath, pastor of the 81-year-old parish that began in a tiny wood frame chapel built in 1924.

The chapel, originally attended mostly by Mexican farmers, evolved into a 450-seat church, which stood for 43 years before being replaced by the new structure.

The former church's cramped quarters led to several Masses being given in different languages to accommodate the parish, which today hosts 2,600 families including Latinos, whites, Vietnamese and Filipinos.

About a decade ago, parish members began collecting money for a new church. They raised about $4.5 million through such events as bake sales and through private donations, said Charles Kovac, a longtime member who oversaw the effort.

The rest of the money, he said, came in the form of a loan from the Diocese of Orange.

"I feel like we finally made it," Heath said. "I feel like we've survived."

Not everyone shared his enthusiasm, however. Some Spanish-speaking parishioners, one of the largest groups in the parish, worry that a bigger church able to accommodate larger crowds will lead to a reduced number of Masses.

And that, they fear, may result in a smaller number of services in Spanish.

Orange Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto said in a written statement responding to those concerns that some changes being considered involved "long-standing and popular activities favored by Hispanic parishioners."

However, "it is important to recognize that as the new architecture seeks to accommodate a growing and changing parish population, so too must the liturgy and other clerical services address shifting census patterns," Soto said.

But Romulo Rievera gave out a written statement after Saturday's service that called the church "culturally insensitive." He said he represented a group that had been staging protests for weeks.

None of the discord was evident during Saturday's elaborate dedication ceremony. Brown blessed the building and the parishioners, and spread holy oil on the church's walls and altar, whose top is made of the same type of marble found in ancient structures of Jerusalem. A mariachi band serenaded churchgoers during the celebration that followed.

Many of the members said they welcomed the larger church and its possibilities.

"We can meet in much larger groups," said Ken Troxler, 48, a five-year member of the church.

"The entire community can meet instead of being fragmented by so many Masses."

Said Cesar Ortega, 66, who's been attending for 16 years, "It's all for the glory of God."

However, Heath, the pastor, said there might be some fence-mending to do.

"Now that we finished building the church," he said, "we have to build the church."

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