Like many Catholics, when I find myself away from home on a weekend, I go online and search for a church to attend Sunday Mass.
The opportunity to spend a few days in Las Vegas was unexpected, and I admit to some apprehension upon realizing that the visit included a Sunday.
Then the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer popped up in my Internet search results.
So, upon arrival in Vegas, I scouted out the shrine on a Saturday afternoon — and what I found astonished me.
Located on the south end of the Vegas Strip, the shrine is an unimposing structure compared to the surrounding casino hotels, with its plain-white exterior, cross that rises above the building and the statues that grace the outside. From the parking lot, the Tropicana casino rises up on one side, and the Luxor, with its pyramid shape and sphinx, is on the other.
The Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer is a beacon of holiness in "Sin City."
According to the shrine’s website, its construction was made possible by corporate and individual donations. It has served the faithful for 20 years; it was dedicated on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Feb. 2, 1993. Because it is a shrine, not a parish, it cannot administer the sacraments of baptism or matrimony — but it beckons countless pilgrims for Mass and prayer.
Bronze statues of Jesus with the children and St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus greet visitors as they approach the building. A third statue — Jesus with his arms thrown open — gently welcomes the faithful at the entrance.
Once inside, down a short hallway to the right, is a chapel that alone made the hike from the hotel worthwhile.
Hand-painted murals flank the tabernacle in the Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe — the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe — which reflects the Hispanic roots of the region. The murals, commissioned by Bishop Daniel Walsh, the fifth bishop of Las Vegas, depict people who have, in their unique way, in their unique times, brought the faith to the Americas, including Blessed Junipero Serra, Blessed Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, St. Marianne Cope, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Father Francisco Garcés, who is thought to have celebrated the first Mass in Nevada.
The chapel also holds other precious works: A 200-year-old statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus and 17th-century oil painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These treasures combine with the modern bronze tabernacle and other chapel furnishings to create a space that combines old and new to effectively depict the timelessness and timeliness of our faith.
Approaching the sanctuary through the glass doors, my eyes were immediately and most appropriately drawn to the altar. The large crucifix with Christ’s eyes gazing heavenward is suspended in front of a wall that is itself a work of art: a mosaic of golden rays beaming down from heaven’s blue sky. A white dove completes the mosaic.
Hand-painted angels on either side of the mosaic look on in serene adoration. In addition, an alcove in the altar area houses a bronze tabernacle in the shape of a blazing fire.
The side walls of the sanctuary are home to bronze tableaus that illustrate the life of Christ: the Annunciation, the Wedding at Cana, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and other pivotal moments.
One of the more striking scenes is of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, with two soldiers in the foreground, whose expressions effectively illustrate how oblivious they are to the history-changing aspect of the death of Jesus as they gamble for his robe.
The Last Supper tableau shows Jesus washing Peter’s feet in the foreground, with Peter’s face contorted in protest and Jesus’ patient persistence as he teaches Peter the role of a servant-leader.
Also present in the sanctuary are traditional statues of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients. Funds are currently being raised to create a chapel dedicated to St. Peregrine.
Walking to Sunday Mass was peaceful, the sidewalks devoid of fellow tourists who had thronged the Vegas Strip the night before.
I came across other Massgoers, and our numbers grew as we drew closer to the shrine.
With eight Masses each weekend, the 2,200-seat church was filled with faithful from all over the globe — each finding a real oasis in the desert, a peaceful haven from the sensory overload of the Vegas Strip.
As the shrine’s website points out, "Catholics are very special people when it comes to religion. No matter where we go, we take our faith and religious practices with us. We expect to join in the celebration of the Sunday liturgy and to have the other sacraments available to us no matter where we may find ourselves. We take it for granted that the local Church will provide all the facilities and personnel necessary to meet our religious needs."
Even in Vegas.
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Colchester, Vermont.
Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer
56 East Reno Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89119