By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. MARGARET PARISH
Utah Catholics get a Filipino for a Bishop
For Filipino Catholics who have not yet heard the news, recently Pope Francis appointed a new bishop to be the head of the diocese of Salt Lake City in Utah.
This news is significant for the Filipino Catholic community in particular because the bishop who was appointed to take that office is Bishop Oscar Solis who is the first—and so far only—Filipino bishop in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Up until now, Bishop Solis had been serving as one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California. As of March when he is formally installed as bishop of Salt Lake City, he will assume his new role as the “head” of that diocese in Utah.
For those who do not know him, Bishop Oscar is a native of Nueva Ecija in the Philippines. He attended both the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay as well as the University of Santo Thomas in Manila. He was ordained in 1979 for the Archdiocese of Manila and in his time in the Philippines ministered in both the Manila Archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
He came to the United States in the mid-80s and served in New Jersey as well as in Louisiana. In 2004, he was ordained as a bishop by Cardinal Mahoney and served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as one of the auxiliary bishops.
RIGHT PICTUREL Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles as bishop of Salt Lake City. The first PH-born prelate to head a U.S. diocese, Bishop Solis is pictured Jan. 5 (Photo by J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings)
In recent years, Bishop Oscar Solis was instrumental in forming the National Association of Filipino Priests. The first of its kind, the NAFP brings together about 900 or so priests of Filipino descent living and ministering in various parts of the United States. Bishop Solis helped to organize the first nationwide gathering in Los Angeles about six years ago where approximately 400 priests attended.
The second gathering was in 2014 in Orlando, Florida and attended by roughly 300 priests. The next assembly will be this coming November in Houston, Texas and, once again, Bishop Solis has been at the center of the planning process.
As a person, Bishop Oscar Solis loves to sing and play the piano. He tells jokes and smiles constantly. His sense of humor is contagious and breaks down barriers. His personality is definitely a big part of who he is not only as a bishop but as a human being.
This is a milestone for the Filipino Catholic community. A Filipino is now the bishop of a diocese in the United States. Every diocese is considered a local Church and every local Church needs a shepherd who is the bishop.
In the early Church, every time a new community of faith was established, an appointed leader would be named who would serve as the connection between the community and to the Apostles. For this reason, bishops are seen in the Catholic Church as those who have inherited the ministry of the Apostles themselves.
Maintaining that connection with the Apostolic ministry serves to maintain the unity of the Church which was the prayer of Jesus when he prayed to the Father that all may be one as he and the Father are one. For Catholics, this sense of unity in the faith is made concrete and visible by the presence of a bishop who serves as the shepherd of a particular local community.
As the new bishop of the Salt Lake City Diocese, Bishop Solis will have his work cut out for him, as the saying goes. As the only Catholic diocese in the state of Utah, Bishop Solis will be the main shepherd for the Catholics in the entire state. In many ways, it will be as if he is in missionary territory. To visit the various parishes of the diocese along with his clergy and lay faithful, Bishop Solis will be required to travel hours at a time since he may be coming from a parish that is at one end of the state/diocese to another parish that is at the other end.
This is difficult for people in urban settings such as Chicago to comprehend since, at the most, it can take about one hour to travel from one end of the city to the other. This will perhaps be one of the main challenges of the newly appointed bishop of Salt Lake City.
Further, Bishop Solis will serve as the only bishop for a diocese that has about 60 active priests that belong to the diocese. There are 49 parishes with 20 missions that make up the diocese. His diocese has about 300,000 Catholics in a state that has close to three million people. Needless to say that Bishop Solis will have many challenges awaiting him but, having had the chance to meet him personally, I am confident that he will be up to the task.
The Church rejoices that there will be someone to be the spiritual guide of the diocese of Salt Lake City. The Filipino Catholic community rejoices that one of our own has been chosen for this awesome task. Let us all pray that the work of God may continue in Christians throughout the world.