VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Named an archbishop a month ago when his fast-growing diocese became an archdiocese, Archbishop George L. Thomas of Las Vegas was one of 32 archbishops to receive a pallium from Pope Francis June 29.
After the Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the archbishops went to the Chapel of the Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica and, seated before Michelangelo's famous statue of Mary holding her dead son, the pope handed each archbishop the newly blessed woolen band folded up in a small wooden box.
"I said to him that I am the archbishop of the new Archdiocese of Las Vegas, and he went 'tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,'" moving his finger as if it were part of a roulette wheel, the archbishop told Catholic News Service.
One thing Archbishop Thomas definitely is not gambling on is getting the pallium home. It will be in his carry-on bag and not checked luggage, he said. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, will confer the pallium on the archbishop in Las Vegas Oct. 2, the feast of the Guardian Angels, which is the archdiocese's patron feast.
The Vatican had announced May 30 that it was elevating the Diocese of Las Vegas to an archdiocese. The “Ecclesiastical Province” headed by the new archdiocese will include the lesser "suffragan" dioceses of Reno and Salt Lake City. All three had formerly belonged to the province of Archdiocese of San Francisco.
In his homily at the feast day Mass, Pope Francis described the pallium as "a sign of communion with the church of Rome," and he urged the new archbishops to "be apostles like Peter and Paul. Be disciples in following and apostles in preaching."
Archbishop Frank Leo of Toronto also received his pallium from the pope after Mass. Appointed in February and installed in March, he's been an archbishop a few months longer than Archbishop Thomas.
The pope gave the Toronto prelate the box with the pallium on the day before his 52nd birthday.
At a reception afterward, a gathering that included 30 Italian relatives he had not seen in years, Archbishop Leo said, "The pallium is a powerful symbol of our church. First, it symbolizes the unity and communion with the successor of Peter, Pope Francis himself."
"Second it symbolizes the mission a bishop has to be a good shepherd according to the heart of Christ," the archbishop said. "We are called to be good shepherds, like Jesus, for the flock."
At his reception at the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, Archbishop Thomas said that his first talk in Las Vegas five years ago was about "the vision and values of the Second Vatican Council," including how the life and ministry of the diocese would always reflect "'communio' theology and that is a deep and meaningful union with the see of Peter," the Vatican, "and with the mission territories, so our view would be expansive and never introspective."
"We have a very deep sense of communion with our Holy Father; it is something we work on, and we emphasize in our preaching and teaching," he said. "I was delighted that he talked about that today -- the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic."
The church in Las Vegas, he said, is full of Catholics who take seriously the call to be "missionary disciples," and it is a reflection of the universal church with 58 language groups present, a couple of parishes baptizing 35 infants every weekend, thousands of adults joining the church at Easter every year and most parishes celebrating weekend Mass with "standing room only."
Although the archdiocese had only 27 days to prepare for the trip to Rome, Archbishop Thomas was accompanied by his four siblings, Auxiliary Bishop Gregory W. Gordon and close to 100 laypeople, priests and seminarians.
Mary Ann Thomas Dewing, one of his sisters, said the archbishop "always puts faith first, family and friends. He draws people in" and "never puts himself above anyone."
"We were all in awe of being at the Vatican, being at Mass with him," she said.
Patrick Miller, a senior vice president at MGM Resorts International, serves as chair of the board of trustees at Cristo Rey St. Viator school and on the board of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. He joined the pilgrimage for the opportunity to visit the Vatican and because of "the man himself; he's someone who has really taken the servant approach" to leadership.
Las Vegas, he said, is a city that welcomes everyone, whether it is to gamble, go to a concert or see a show or a sporting event or to find a job. But the church in the archdiocese is even more welcoming, Miller said, and the archbishop deserves credit for that.
"This is the type of leader who is thinking not about tomorrow, but way beyond," Miller said. "And I love that, but at the same time, in the moment, he's very pastoral because he thinks about the individual and what we need to do to assist the weakest in the valley."