The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange, and other Diocese of Orange leaders unveiled the Our Lady of La Vang Shrine at the Christ Cathedral campus on July 17 to thousands of onlookers in an elaborate Solemn Blessing day that included a processional, Mass and live entertainment.
The celebratory day coincides with the second anniversary of Christ Cathedral’s 2019 dedication as a Catholic Cathedral.
The $12.6-million shrine, first announced in December 2016, serves as a testament to the remarkable journey of the Vietnamese-American people — from war and persecution to a new reality where faith and community are vibrant and ascendant.
The Our Lady of La Vang Shrine depicts the Virgin Mary as she is believed to have appeared before a group of persecuted Vietnamese Catholics in 1798. During that Marian apparition, which took place in a remote rainforest region in Vietnam, the Blessed Mother offered the desperate parishioners hope and guidance.
In the centuries since, Our Lady of La Vang, as the apparition has since been named, has represented hope, faith and promise to Vietnamese Catholics around the world.
“This shrine to Our Lady of La Vang is not only another example of how beauty draws to God, but it is a testimony to the faith of our Vietnamese brothers and sisters who have contributed so much to the life of our parishes here in Orange County, and which then points us all to the Mother of God and her protection,” Bishop Kevin W. Vann said in a statement.
The shrine represents both that historic apparition and honors the important contributions of the Vietnamese-Catholic diaspora in Orange County, which is home to the world’s largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. An estimated 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics live in the county.
“The Vietnamese community in Orange County and I are very excited to have this shrine of Our Lady of La Vang to be solemnly blessed,” Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen said in a statement. “Remembering the blessings received from her intercessions, we desire to honor her with a special place to express our deep appreciation to her past accompaniment and to petition her to continue journeying with us in our pilgrimage of life. Our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude as we look forward to seeing Our Lady of La Vang here on our beautiful Christ Cathedral campus.”
Weighing an estimated 16,000 pounds, the 12-foot-tall statue was carved from white marble extracted from a quarry in Carrara, Italy. It took one and a half years to sculpt.
The statue depicts the Virgin Mary standing on a cloud and holding the Baby Jesus. She has a Eurasian face and wears a traditional Vietnamese áo dài dress and khăn đống hat.
The shrine was purposefully designed in a modern style to complement the iconic glass of the Christ Cathedral and Crean Tower. In addition, like the campus’ Cultural Center, the shrine contains stainless steel panels.
The panels form an alpha-shaped ribbon that circles a glass-paned roof. Three poles hold up the roof and cover the otherwise open-air statue.
The entire setting, with a canopy-like design, is meant to evoke the rainforest of the 1798 Marian apparition. The three poles are of a dark brown color, resembling the three banyan trees behind the Virgin Mary during the apparition.
More than 5,000 donors — many giving small amounts — have contributed to the shrine, which is located in the northeast corner of the Christ Cathedral campus. The display is expected to be the primary draw of Christ Cathedral’s planned Marian Court, where the Diocese intends to install other shrines honoring the Virgin Mary.
The shrine also contains the names of 117 Catholics who were martyred for their religious beliefs in Vietnam.
Additional touches are coming following the July 17 Solemn Blessing day. Rosary gardens, a waterfall feature and a basalt medallion around the base of the statue will be installed in the coming weeks.
Aaron Torrence of Culver City-based Torrence Architects served as the project’s architect of record. Trần Quốc Trung of GlobalSolutions Development is the design architect.
“The project touches many people in different ways — the volunteers, the donors, the faithful, the local media, the builders,” said Elysabeth Nguyen, project manager for the Our Lady of La Vang Diocesan committee, in a prepared statement. “This shrine is the result of the faithful and the community coming together. I was fortunate to witness it and grow with it. I am eternally thankful to be part of the journey for the last five years and I look forward to seeing many others visit and make it part of their journey of faith.”
Fast Facts for the Our Lady of La Vang Shrine
- The carved Italian white marble statue of Our Lady of Vang stands 12 feet tall and weighs an estimated 16,000 pounds. Below her is an altar and cloud that together are 6 feet tall.
- The shrine cost $12.6 million. Unused construction funds will go toward ongoing maintenance needs.
- The statue was co-designed by a priest board headed by Msgr. Tuan Pham of Saint Columban Catholic Church and Nghi Dinh Pham, with approval of the Diocese Sacred Arts Committee and Bishop Kevin Vann. It was sculpted by Andrea Ceccarelli of the Italian Marble Company, which is based in Carrara, Italy. The company is a fifth-generation artisan marble business founded in 1897.
- About 400 steel panels are incorporated into the shrine structure.
- There are 80 skylight glass panels in the shrine.
- The footprint of the shrine site, which includes the rosary gardens, is 21,200 square feet, or just under a half acre.
- Approximately 300 volunteers helped make the shrine a reality.
- Gray, the construction firm, was the general contractor.
Important Milestone Dates
- Our Lady of La Vang project first announced by the Diocese of Orange on Dec. 7, 2016.
- Project approved for fundraising by Bishop Kevin W. Vann and Orange Catholic Foundation on July 27, 2017, and an official Diocese Our Lady of La Vang committee is formed.
- Future shrine site blessed by Bishop Vann on Oct. 21, 2017. The blessing attracted more than 3,000 of the faithful. n Groundbreaking occurred on Oct. 27, 2018. More than 200 congregants attended the ceremony.
- On Dec. 18, 2018, Bishop Vann and Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen visited the Our Lady of La Vang pilgrimage site in central Vietnam’s Quảng Trị
- Construction site at Christ Cathedral blessed by Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen in a private ceremony on Nov. 21, 2019.
- Our Lady of La Vang carved Italian marble statue, the centerpiece of the shrine, arrived from Italy to the Christ Cathedral campus on Jan. 28, 2020.
- After three days of painstaking work, the Our Lady of La Vang statue is put in place within the shrine on June 3, 2021. Bishop Kevin W. Vann, Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen and Fr. Christopher Smith (rector and episcopal vicar to Christ Cathedral) blessed the work of installing the statue before a small crowd of onlookers and supporters.
Architectural Elements of the Shrine that Will be Finished After Solemn Blessing Day
- Rosary gardens
- A waterfall feature by the martyr wall
- A medallion of basalt stone, which was sourced from Vietnam and will be on the ground around the Our Lady of La Vang statue
- Future in-ground lighting
Historical Background of the Our Lady of La Vang Apparition
The Our Lady of La Vang Shrine is dedicated to the 1798 Marian apparition within the rainforest of La Vang, Quảng Trị Province, in the North Central Coast region of Vietnam. At the time, the Catholic people of Vietnam were suffering persecution, with many being martyred for their faith. Many fled to La Vang, where one night the apparition of a lady in a traditional Vietnamese áo dài dress appeared alongside two angels. She was holding a child in her arms. The apparition was interpreted to be the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus. The Blessed Mother spoke words of love and comfort to the persecuted Catholics and showed them how to make medicines from trees growing in the forest. A shrine to Our Lady of La Vang was eventually built of rice straw and leaves at the site but was burned in 1805 during an insurgency in which many Catholics were martyred. The shrine was rebuilt in 1900 and enlarged in 1928. Pilgrims from around the world journey to the site annually and many have reported miraculous cures.