Bishop Oscar A. Solis: Making history by trusting in God
Friday, Feb. 24, 2017
Courtesy photo/Angeles News
Bishop Oscar A. Solis
SALT LAKE CITY — The bishop-designate of Salt Lake City is a soft-spoken man with a ready wit who sees himself as a conduit of God’s love to the people.
“God has given me so much love that I need to share it with the people of Utah,” said Bishop Oscar A. Solis, who will be installed on March 7. “The love of God is not mine.”
In the 39 years since his ordination to the Sacred Orders, Bishop Solis has ministered in three archdioceses and two dioceses in two countries. He was born, raised and ordained a priest in the Philippines, where he served in a variety of positions in the Archdiocese of Manila. In 1984, he emigrated to the United States. He was the associate pastor of a parish in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. for four years before moving to the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La. After 10 years there, he was named a bishop and appointed to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; his episcopal ordination was on Feb. 10, 2004.
His appointment as the 10th Bishop of Salt Lake City was announced Jan. 10, 2017.
“I know God has something in store for us when he leads us to a new place,” Bishop Solis said, adding that he has been made to feel welcome and had a sense of belonging in every community he has served.
“It is a tremendous blessing,” he said. “That is what America stands for, to open its doors to every people, especially those who are suffering, tired, weary in body and soul.”
The silver pectoral cross he wears was given to him by Pope John Paul II during an ad limina visit to Rome in 2004.
“I’m a JP II bishop,” he said, explaining that he was ordained a priest in first year of John Paul II’s papacy, and his ordination as bishop came the year the pope died.
He reflects the influence of Pope Francis, as well: Concluding his prepared remarks at the Jan. 10 press conference at which his new appointment was announced, Bishop Solis asked people to pray “that God will give me the wisdom and the strength to be a responsible shepherd of the flock of the Diocese of Salt Lake City and the people of Utah.”
Described by those who have worked with him as a bridge-builder who has a gift of making others feel special no matter what their social status, Bishop Solis has worked for more than a decade on cultural diversity committees with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Currently, he is chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, and a member of the Committee on Cultural Diversity of the Church. In addition, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he served for five years as the Vicar for Ethnic Ministry.
As Bishop of Salt Lake City, he has an enormous task in front of him, he said. When he first received word of the appointment, “I was so terrified of the sacred responsibility of being a diocesan bishop. I am just an Occidental auxiliary bishop coming into a responsibility of authority and responsibility” in a place where he had visited only once before, he said.
Now that he has had time to work through the uncertainty that came with the news of his appointment, he is looking forward to learning how to be a good shepherd to the Diocese of Salt Lake City “and how to work together,” he said. “I have no agenda other than just to open my mind and my heart to learn about the people of Utah and the local Church.”
The bishop’s sense of humor was apparent throughout the Jan. 10 press conference. For example, relating the story of his reaction to the call from the apostolic nuncio announcing his new appointment, Bishop Solis said he had gotten comfortable after 13 years in Los Angeles, but “all of a sudden a voice came down from heaven and said, ‘You fool!’”
He also lightheartedly remarked that now, to minister to a diocese of 85,000 square miles, he will need to become a “roaming bishop” as well as a Roman one.
In Utah, the bishop’s background and experience of working with people of various cultures may prove useful. The local Church is about 60 percent Hispanic and 34 percent White. Masses are celebrated not only in English and Spanish but also Vietnamese, Filipino, Polish and Arabic. In addition, if he follows the example of his predecessors, Bishop Solis will work with the leadership of the state’s various faith communities on matters of common interest such as family values and immigration.
America is a land of opportunity, one nation under God, with a generous spirit, he said. “Let’s not forget our roots. … Refugees, immigrants – they are one of us. We build bridges, not walls.”
Golf, music and food
On a personal side, the bishop “loves to eat good food,” said Monsignor Vicente DeLa Cruz of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. “He enjoys the adventure of knowing what goes into this and what goes into that.”
In addition, Bishop Solis likes to golf and play the piano, the monsignor said. “When you have a piano at any place, all you have to do is point to it and Oscar will be on top of those keyboards, playing hymns and songs for you all to jump in.”
Bishop Solis’ sense of humor and self-deprecating style is also evident in one of his favorite greetings in Tagalog, which translates to “Don’t be afraid to approach me because I’m not asking for a donation,” said Butch Geraldez, who worked with the bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Ethnic Ministry. The bishop was the office’s vicar; Geraldez was treasurer and vice president.
For his part, now that he has had time to adjust to the change, Bishop Solis is “truly grateful to God for this special blessing to be appointed as Bishop of Salt Lake City,” he said. “I was humbled to be chosen, but excited about it, and I am very much encouraged to learn about so many wonderful works taking place in our diocese.”
Alex Harrington and Laura Vallejo contributed to this article.