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Catholic bishop of Las Vegas gets new title, more territory

Updated May 31, 2023 - 5:16 pm

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, on Tuesday officially created the Archdiocese of Las Vegas, the first ever in Nevada and the first new archdiocese in the United States in nearly two decades as the religion finds its flock increasing in Southern Nevada.

The historic designation includes the state’s first Archbishop George Leo Thomas and a newly established ecclesiastical regional province, with Las Vegas leading as the Metropolitan See, or archdiocese, joined by the Reno and Salt Lake City dioceses, which are Suffragan Sees.

Thomas, during a news conference at the Guardian Angel Cathedral at 336 Cathedral Way near the Strip, attributed the pope’s move to the quality of the church’s Las Vegas organization and to the steady local growth in faithful Roman Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Las Vegas covers most of the south of the state, or 39,000 of Nevada’s 110,000 square miles, and the area includes about 750,000 Catholics, according to a church news release.

“We estimate that we have around 650,000 persons who are attending our parishes rather regularly and additional 200,000 who are either undocumented or unregistered,” he said.

“I’d say that 35 or 37 percent are Hispanic, Latino, very large Filipino population and of course the Caucasian community,” he said. “We have 58 language groups who are presently worshipping in our churches.”

“Some of our parishes are baptizing 30 people a weekend, infants, children and adults,” he said,

Thomas, who has served as Las Vegas bishop since his appointment by the pope in 2018, said another factor is the around 50,000 Californians moving into Clark County each year “and an estimated 30 percent of that number as well is said to be Roman Catholic.”

“So we are getting an influx, our parishes are very active,” he said. “Two of our parishes now have 40,000 registered parishioners, some nine and 10 masses. Our masses are oftentimes standing room only, so there is a vibrancy out of the community.”

The former diocese had been preparing for the possible elevation since last year, when the nomination received approvals from all 10 dioceses and bishops in the former San Francisco province and eventually the unanimous support of the United Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Bishop Gregory Gordon, auxiliary bishop of Las Vegas.

It had to be approved by the secretary of state of the Vatican in Rome, the center of Catholicism, and the Dicastery of Bishops, who advised Pope Francis to approve the Ecclesiastical Province of Las Vegas, Gordon said.

Thomas first heard about the favorable papal decision last week in a call from a Vatican official who told him Las Vegas’ designation would become official Tuesday at 3 a.m. local time.

Thomas, who is now the 34th archbishop in the United States, said he was also told he would be the only American promoted to archbishop this year.

To complete his elevation, Thomas and a group of pilgrims from Las Vegas will travel to the Vatican on June 29 to attend the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, an annual liturgical feast, where Pope Francis will present him with a pallium, a blessed vestment made of wood that symbolizes “sheep being carried on the shoulders of a shepherd,” according to Montie Chavez, archdiocese spokesman.

Then on Oct. 2, to coincide with the Feast of The Holy Guardian Angels, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, will be in Las Vegas to bestow the pallium on Thomas during a Mass at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer church at 55 E. Reno Ave.

Las Vegas started as a diocese in 1995, and its elevation by the Holy See “usually happens when the diocese experiences significant growth, when there is need for stronger coordination and leadership within the province, or is a place of historical importance,” according to Chavez.

The last archdiocese designated in the United States was in Houston in 2004, Gordon said.

Others at the Tuesday conference include Reno Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, Salt Lake City Bishop Oscar Solis and the Rev. Richard Higgins, retired auxiliary bishop of the Military Archdiocese.

A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the archbishop and misidentified the type of material used for vestments.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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