The Mass is similar to any other Catholic service. Some people are dressed in their Sunday best, while others prefer to show up in more casual attire. Families fill the pews as the Rev. Quang Minh Dong and the Rev. Joseph Trong Nguyen start their Sunday morning homily entirely in Vietnamese.
Nguyen founded the Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang at 4835 S. Pearl St. 13 years ago. At the time he started the parish, there were roughly 70 members. Now there are about 800 active members, according to Dong.
“I founded the church because there was a dire need for a Vietnamese Catholic church in the community,” Nguyen said. “This church offers the only Vietnamese Catholic Mass in Las Vegas.”
According to Dong, members are a mixture of first-, second- and third-generation Vietnamese. There are also a handful of English-only speakers who come to support their husbands or wives.
Vince Labandz first came to the church two years ago with his wife, Tina Nguyen, who is from Vietnam. Although Labandz does not speak Vietnamese, Nguyen said she usually translates the Mass for him during the service.
“I come here because it’s good to have my wife around her own people,” Labandz said. “It helps her make friends, and it’s also good for her to hear the Mass in her native language.”
Labandz added that the church also helps a lot of people through donations and community involvement.
Every Monday night, another parishioner, Tiana Nguyen, goes downtown with a group of church members to feed the homeless on G Street and McWilliams Avenue. The group teams up with St. Benedict’s Homeless Ministry and brings homemade fried rice and sandwiches.
Tiana Nguyen said she arrived in the U.S. on a boat from Vietnam as a refugee and that she lost her sister in the turbulent ocean. Despite her hardships, she said she is grateful for the freedom she has received in the United States.
“The church has taught me that you don’t have to be rich or wealthy to be happy, just help others and stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she said.
According to Labandz, the church also participates in helping its Vietnamese community by collecting money for poor Vietnamese people in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of the church is the welcoming statue of Our Lady of La Vang that is surrounded by mushroomlike trees.
“An architect named Ziao Tran worked with Father Nguyen to create this special symbol for the church,” said Cong Vu, public relations representative for the church. “This symbol can be traced back to 18th-century Vietnam.”
According to the church’s website, la
vanglasvegas.com, Mary made an appearance at La Vang in Vietnam in 1798. She appeared to console Catholics who were being persecuted for the faith under the rule of Emperor Canh Thinh.
The oppressed Catholics fled to the forest of La Vang and became ill from the lack of food, water and sleep. When Mary appeared, she told them to pick the leaves off of the La Vang trees, boil them and drink the concoction as medicine.
In 1901, Bishop Gasper blessed the statue of La Vang and named Our Lady of La Vang the patron saint of the faithful in Vietnam.
Besides religious services, the church offers a Vietnamese language program for children 7 to 16 to learn their parents’ native language. The class is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, and a religion class follows from 2 to 4 p.m.
Mass is celebrated three days a week, at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays.
Our Lady of La Vang is set to host its annual fall festival Oct. 18-20. As part of the celebration, free food will be served and special religious services will be scheduled throughout the day. Entertainment also is planned.
Las Vegas Bishop Joseph Anthony Pepe and Bishop Michael Oanh Duc Hoang of Vietnam are expected to take part in the ceremony. Dong said it is the church’s biggest event of the year, and he expects 4,000 people to visit throughout the weekend.
“This church is unique because of its welcoming and friendly environment,” Dong said. “I’ve seen people from Japan, Australia and Vietnam attend Mass. Once the Mass is over, people always walk away feeling very happy.”
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4686.