Wednesday, January 11, 2017

First Asian/American bishop appointed to lead Utah diocese

Bishop Oscar Azarcon Solis
A FILIPINO/AMERICAN immigrant was appointed bishop of a U.S. diocese Tuesday (Jan. 10) indicating the growing diversity of the Catholic American church.

Pope Francis named Bishop Oscar Asarco Solis, an immigrant from the Philippines, to become the bishop of the Salt Lake City diocese, which has been without a leader for 20 months.

The 63-year-old Solis is an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In Utah, he succeeds Bishop John C. Wester, who departed in June 2015 to become the archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M.

Solis was born in San Jose City, Philippines, and will be the state's first Filipino bishop. He also is the first Filipino/American bishop ordained in the U.S.

There have been at least two other Asian-American Catholic bishops, according to Rev. Linh Hoang , O.F.M., an associate professor of religious studies at Siena College. They were Bishop Dominic Luong, a Vietnamese American, and Bishop Ignatius Wang, a Chinese American. Both men are retired auxiliary bishops, meaning they were appointed as helpers to a diocesan bishop, who is the official pastoral and legal head of a diocese.

"This is massively significant on the national front," said Rocco Palmo, a prominent Catholic chronicler and editor of Whispers in the Loggia, a church news blog.

About 5 million U.S. Catholics are Asian, Palmo wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, and they produce a "disproportionately high number of priestly and religious vocations nationwide."

"So for them," Palmo added, "this is going to be a historic shot in the arm far beyond Utah."

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has seen a drop in membership but the influx of Asians, primarily Filipino and Vietnamese, and Latinos has made for an increasingly diverse church.

Of the more than 300,000 Catholics in Utah, about 18,000 of them are Asian, said Susan Dennin, the diocese's communications director. The Filipino community is the largest Asian demographic of the group.

In Los Angeles, Solis, who speaks Spanish, has shown he is "leading the church's understanding of the cultural diversity there and seeking to integrate every group on the wider stage of the archdiocese," Palmo said. "... So having a Spanish-fluent pick with a tremendous amount of experience in both administration and leading a diverse immigrant community ... bodes very well, and the symbolic piece sends a remarkable message."

Solis will be officially installed as bishop of Salt Lake City’s diocese on March 7, according to Vatican Radio.