Ecija native rises as 1st Asian bishop to head a US diocese

    SAN JOSE CITY – “Every Filipino has the chance to rise to greater heights. We just have to be faithful to our culture and be open to God, and the blessings will always be with us.”

    These words, in August 2004, were from former Nueva Ecija-assigned Catholic priest Oscar Solis in his homecoming here after being named then as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the United States.

    They proved to be truer for himself today as he is set to be installed this March 7 as the bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City in Utah. His installation will mark his historic rise to be the first Asian to be an official and legal head of a diocese in the US.

    Solis, 63, who was born in Barangay Sto. Tomas here, already held the distinction of being the first Filipino Catholic bishop in the US when he was appointed by then Pope John Paul II to the title in November 2003.

    In his other message of hope in his 2004 homecoming, he said in an interview:

    “In spite of who you are, no matter what is your station in life, you can expect graces from God.”

    His appointment as the new bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City was announced last Jan. 10 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

    He will fill in the post left vacant for 21 months by the former bishop who was appointed archbishop in a US archdiocese.

    The Diocese of Salt Lake City, which comprises the entire state of Utah and 48 parishes, has reportedly a Catholic community of 300,000 people. It is also home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). “

    … I will work with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints to enhance the well-being of all the people of Utah,” Solis was quoted as saying right after the announcement of his appointment.

    He also did not forget his home country when he said: “… It is a tremendous blessing and a responsibility and a privilege to be of service to the local church in the United States of America, coming from the Philippines.”

    Solis, whose brother is also a priest, said then that he belonged to an ordinary family. His late father, Antonio, was an insurance man and his mother, Antonia Azarcon, was a school teacher. He was reared as a boy here by his aunt Leticia Solis, who passed away late last year.

    He finished his secondary schooling at the Maria Assumpta Seminary in Cabanatuan City and then to the Christ the King Seminary in Quezon City and in a seminary in Tagaytay City.

    Upon his ordination in 1979, he became a chaplain of the Araullo University in Cabanatuan City and then rector of the Maria Assumpta Seminary. He was approved by the Church authorities to pursue doctoral studies in Canon Law in Rome in 1984. But first, he took time to visit family in the U.S. where he carried out some pastoral works.

    “I fell in love with parish life,” Solis said then.

    He became associate pastor of St. Rocco’s church in Union City, New Jersey. Later, he was incardinated in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana and served as a parish priest for 15 years prior to his appointment to Los Angeles.

    As auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, he served as vicar for ethnic ministry, then director of the Office of Justice and Peace, and was assigned as episcopal vicar to the San Pedro Pastoral Region covering southern Los Angeles County where he serves today.

    His late aunt said then: “He is a simple man. He likes to eat anything that is offered to him.”

    Before leaving then after being honored by the city council here as Outstanding Son of San Jose City and partaking in the feast prepared for him, he said:

    “It’s back to my work in the 12-story Diocesan Center in midtown Los Angeles and visiting 288 parishes. It’s also back to pangat — pangatlong init ng pagkain sa aking tinitirhang rectory (I’ll be back in my rectory eating my leftovers that I have to re-heat for three meals).”


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