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1151: Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
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Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Monastery Hood.
The church: Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, E. Reno Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A life-sized statue of Jesus, with arms spread wide, can be found at one end of glittery, glitzy Las Vegas Avenue. Behind the statue, on a barren corner lot flanked by somewhat anemic palm trees, sits a large, rather unremarkable modern-looking church of beige and white stone. This is the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer. The building dates from the late 1980s. Inside is rather minimalist except for several tableaux depicting the last supper, the crucifixion and other biblical scenes.
The church: This church has no parishioners per se, although I imagine there are a few local attendees. Rather, it ministers primarily to tourists and gamblers. People have been known to toss casino chips into the offering plate. I am told that attendance averages 5,000 a week, mostly at the several masses celebrated each Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Mass is also celebrated, and the rosary prayed, daily. Exposition of the blessed sacrament takes place every Wednesday. Thursday devotions to St Jude (patron saint of the desperate) and a Friday holy hour fill out the church's weekly schedule.
The neighborhood: Well, let me see, could the Las Vegas Strip be in any way interesting or unusual? Hmmm! The shrine is situated at the southern end of the Strip quite close to the airport, so there's lights, action, soaring planes, and blazing neon all abounding. The statue of Jesus gazes serenely upon billboards hawking magic shows and dance revues ("sexier than ever") and a big screen flashing images such as the likes of Cher in a silver wig.
The cast: The Rev. Paul Bianchi, rector, gave a brief talk about the church and then introduced the celebrant, the Rev. Anthony Vercellone.
What was the name of the service?
Saturday Vigil, 15th Sunday in ordinary time.

How full was the building?
I believe the building holds over 2,000, and it was, I suspect, three-quarters full. I'd say there were around 1,500 souls present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, it was a case of just wandering in after a visit to the gift shop, the loo, and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My companion and I picked up a bulletin from a stack on a table at the entrance to the nave.

Was your pew comfortable?
So-so. Not cushioned, but not uncomfortable either. Plain old wooden pews with fold-down kneelers lined with sufficient padding to bear at least 10 minutes of intermittent kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly reverential, with some comings and goings and whispered conversations. Generally respectful, considering the large gathering of mostly tourists.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A pew hymnal and worship guide – forgot to look at the name!

What musical instruments were played?
A rather "grand" grand piano.

Did anything distract you?
Very, very few distractions. The tableaux might have seemed unremarkable to another observer, but I thought they fitted in beautifully and unobtrusively. However, I had never seen electric candles before, so these caught my interest a little.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd say the worship was rather middle-of-the-road, maybe a little on the happy-clappy side.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Father Paul introduced Father Tony as "a great preacher" and he was indeed that. I wish I could have taken him home with me to my own parish! He never referred to notes, spoke clearly and with a mellow tone to his voice, and was positively charismatic.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sower and the seed. Father Tony likened the seed to gifts from God. God bestows gifts upon us every day – sometimes we accept them and thrive, sometimes we don't and they fall on stony ground. He encouraged us to take these gifts and run!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The charisma of Father Tony was most decidedly heavenly. My companion and I agreed we could have happily sat and listened to him for twice as long. For his part, Father Tony returned the compliment Father Paul had paid him by referring to him as "Father Whatshisname." Also heavenly was the pianist's accompaniment for the hymn "Hosea," beautifully played and with a lovely interlude between verses. Charming.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I would be making something up if I had to force the question. Perhaps the only thing was the unfamiliarity of some of the service music. But the cantor had such a lovely voice, it wasn't all that difficult to follow along.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone beat a hasty exit so it was difficult to masquerade as a lost soul. We received a warm handshake from Father Tony when we left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None provided that we could see. We headed for a local hotel and had dinner there.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I will certainly return to this church whenever I visit Las Vegas. But should I live here, I would prefer a smaller church with a regular congregation. (But I would like Father Tony to be my priest!!)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh my goodness, absolutely yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Father Tony referring to Father Paul as "Whatshisname." The two of them would make a great comedy team.
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