SALT LAKE CITY — A major change is coming to the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
Pope Francis has named Bishop John C. Wester of the diocese to be the Archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M., the Vatican announced Monday.
The decision comes nearly nine years after Wester first arrived in Utah. For those who have served alongside him, it is a bittersweet moment.
“I was so sad to lose a friend,” said Father Martin Diaz, Pastor at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
During Monday’s evening mass, Diaz told members of the congregation it was a loss for their community, but a wonderful addition for the people of Santa Fe.
“His motto is abide in Christ. And I think that’s what he does, abide in Christ,” Diaz said. “I think the people in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe are very blessed to have a very good leader join them.”
Under Bishop Wester’s leadership, the Salt Lake City diocese focused on social justice issues — including immigration and health care. He most recently issued a scathing statement after Governor Gary Herbert signed a law bringing back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah.
During an interview with FOX 13 last week, Wester said one of the most significant problems facing Americans today is kindness, or a lack thereof.
“I think that would, in my mind, cut across everything in our society if we could be more compassionate toward one another,” Wester said, “I think we’ll discover that we can come together and find a way to live together in a pluralistic society with many points of view and still be one country, one nation, indivisible under God.”
In his new role, Wester’s responsibilities will grow. In comparison to the 80 priests and 70 deacons he oversees in Utah, Wester will now lead approximately 200 priests and 200 deacons. However, the Catholic following is similar in both places- about 300,000.
“It really is happiness, sadness. Happiness for the people in Santa Fe, they’re receiving a wonderful leader,” Diaz said. “But I think it is really sad for me personally, and sad for many people in Salt Lake.”
The Installation Mass for Wester is scheduled for June 4 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe.
Between now and then, Wester will continue working in Salt Lake City as an Administrator of the Diocese, as he can’t hold two titles simultaneously.
According to Diaz, it could be months, even a year, before Pope Francis appoints Wester’s replacement.
In the meantime, the seven priests who serve the Catholic Church in Utah will meet to elect a priest to administer in the interim, until the appointment of a new bishop by the Vatican.