LAS VEGAS (AP) — The incoming bishop for the Catholic church in Las Vegas says supporting immigrants and advocating for gun control will be among his top priorities.

Bishop George Leo Thomas, who takes over May 15 for retiring Bishop Joseph Pepe, said he wanted to promote an agenda of "compassion and care."

"I can see the need for ongoing healing and pastoral presence in Las Vegas," said Thomas. "I've always tried to keep my feet on the ground and tend to our communities in need."

The 67-year-old Thomas is set to be the third bishop in the 23-year history of the Diocese of Las Vegas.

Pepe has served as the Diocese of Las Vegas' leading clergy member since 2001.

With Pepe, now 75, at the helm, the diocese grew nearly threefold as the valley's population swelled. There are an estimated 750,000 Catholics in the diocese, which covers Clark, Nye, Lincoln and Esmeralda counties, the Las Vegas Sun reported .

Thomas, who was born and raised in Montana, has served as the bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana, for the last 14 years.

Pepe said Thomas, a longtime friend who also has worked in the prison ministry, was the right person for the job.

"He knows how to reach people of different pastoral needs," Pepe said.

Thomas will take the helm just a few months after the mass shooting on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas.

"We need to have a meaningful voice because of the suffering that has been here in your front yard," he said. "I'm hoping and praying this is a time for new dialogue."


Information from: Las Vegas Sun,