An old religion will be getting a new face sometime soon in Southern Arizona, as the current bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson will be stepping down.
Gerald Kicanas is the current bishop of the Diocese, and has been for the past 15 years. The Diocese covers 43,000 square miles of Arizona, from Parker to Payson, Yuma to Safford, and everything along the border in between. In total, he estimates there are about 400,000 Catholics that live in his region.
"It's a huge geographic area," he said. "And a bishop is responsible for all of the parishes and Catholic schools in that region."
There's no question Catholicism has been quite prevalent in Southern Arizona for hundreds of years.
"The faith has been here for a long, long time," Kicanas said.
He's the sixth bishop to serve here in Southern Arizona, but soon, he'll pass on the reigns to the seventh bishop, once he is crowned. However, that won't happen until Pope Francis makes a decision on who that will be, from the Vatican.
"Right now, we're in the process of waiting, and praying," Kicanas said. "That the Pope will send us a wonderful bishop to continue to do the work of the Church."
Whomever that may be, Bishop Kicanas said that person will inherit a booming region at a great time. As some Catholic Churches in other parts of America are shutting their doors and closing, more are popping up in this region.
"One of the great blessings of the Southwest is that the Church is growing here in the Southwest," Kicanas said.
He couldn't pinpoint a specific reason, speculated it has to do with the growing population in the state. But regardless, he's happy to see an influx of people. In order to keep it growing, he explained the importance of getting youth involved.
"Recently, we've established several new parishes in Pinal County," he said. "And actually, we're looking at purchasing land in other areas because we think in the next 10 years, we might have to establish 5, 6, or 7 new parishes."
While Bishop Kicanas will soon become Bishop-Emeritus Kicanas, he assured people not to worry: he'll still be around and in the picture. He plans on continuing his involvement with the organization Catholic Relief Services, working with refugees, and with the organization Catholic Extension as well.
One thing he is really looking forward to? Continuing to be a priest, it's what he's ordained to do.
"I look forward to that," he said. "And I hope it'll be an opportunity to serve people even more."