The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles was a place of celebration, farewells and well wishes, as religious, deacons and lay faithful from across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered for an evening send-off Mass for Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis on Feb. 1.
In early January, the Vatican announced that Bishop Solis will be the new bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City in Utah beginning in March.
The sacred appointment, made by Pope Francis in December, makes Bishop Solis the first Filipino to lead a diocese in the United States.
“I am feeling a lot of mixed emotions — sadness, nervousness, excitement and joy,” Bishop Solis, 63, told Angelus News before the candlelit procession into the cathedral. “But the prayers of the people are so affirming and supportive. I am ready to go where God leads me.”
The farewell Mass was appropriately celebrated on the vigil of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, signifying an encounter with the real, living presence of Christ in our lives.
“Jesus’ humility is allowing himself to be held as a child in his mother’s arms. May we always have the same humility, to allow ourselves to be children in the eyes of our blessed Mother Mary,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez in his homily.
Addressing Bishop Solis in his remarks, Archbishop Gomez said, “I pray for you, Bishop [Solis], that you will always look at Jesus with the eyes of a child, of prophet Simon, with the same wonder and amazement. That you will carry the light of Christ in the world and share His love, inviting them to find Jesus in every moment.”
John Paul Simon, a seminarian at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, was a sacristan at the Mass.
“[The Mass] shows that, in spite of the archdiocese being so large, there is still a family kind of intimacy present to it,” Simon said.
Before Los Angeles, Bishop Solis served in his hometown Diocese of Cabanatuan City in Central Luzon, Philippines; pursued his doctoral studies in canon law in Rome; and was a pastor in New Jersey and Louisiana.
Bishop Solis was the first Filipino to be named a bishop in the U.S., after Pope John Paul II announced his appointment in Los Angeles in 2003. His ordination the following year marked the first time a bishop had been ordained at the then-new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
From 2004 to 2009, Bishop Solis served as episcopal vicar for the Office of Ethnic Ministry, and as director of the archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace. He was later appointed by then-Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony as episcopal vicar for the San Pedro Pastoral Region.
Currently, Bishop Solis also serves as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and maintains a fraternal spirit with his fellow Asian American / Pacific Islander brother priests, bishops and deacons.
The multilingual Mass on Feb. 1 included liturgical readings proclaimed in Spanish and Tagalog, both dialects spoken by Bishop Solis. Members of the Filipino Ministry and the Office of Ethnic Ministry of the archdiocese were present in the offertory of gifts.
Traditional Latin, Spanish, English and Tagalog music was sung by a combined Filipino choir, from parishes in the central Los Angeles region.
“We get together for big cultural occasions, like Simbang Gabi,” said Bob Schroeder, choir member and conductor of the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra. “It’s always nice to perform here at the cathedral, especially for Bishop Solis. He is always there to support us, and we will miss him terribly.”
Following the Eucharistic Liturgy, bishops in the archdiocese gifted Bishop Solis with a brand-new parka and an Apple Watch, “so you can have a warm conversation with Siri on the way to the churches in Utah,” they said with a laugh.
Members of the Office of Ethnic Ministry, which ministers to more than 40 ethnic communities across the archdiocese, congratulated Bishop Solis and presented him with a liturgical stole bearing the symbol of the Blessed Mother, the patron saint of Los Angeles.
Representatives from the Philippine Consulate General’s office and the Filipino Ministry of Los Angeles presented the bishop with plaques of appreciation on behalf of their communities.
“In gratitude for your many years of faithful and pastoral leadership,” said Father Albert Avenido, chaplain for Filipino Ministry, “these gifts are also a symbol of your encounter with those in Salt Lake City.”
Father Avenido and Filipino Ministry officers also surprised Solis with a gift of skis, a winter coat and skiing gear for his next pastoral assignment.
Bishop Solis also expressed his own gratitude to the Filipino community of Los Angeles, thanking them “for their gift of love, support and joy that they bring, their eager contribution to the local archdiocese and communities they are a part of, and all the beautiful, colorful traditions they bring to the family of the Church.”
Archbishop Gomez joked, “At first, I thought [Bishop Solis] was being called higher … physically, we can say he is, because of the altitude in Salt Lake City. He will make a great bishop for the family of God in that diocese.”
In his ending remarks, the Filipino bishop also had plenty of jokes.
“It has been an enriching experience to serve in Los Angeles for the past 13 years — especially the diverse food,” he laughed, listing off his favorite cultural dishes.
Bishop Solis’ light tone changed when thanking the clergy, especially his brother bishops, priests, deacons and religious sisters. “Thank you for your fidelity to our common mission of evangelization,” he said.
“I am leaving the archdiocese with a heavy heart. I feel very sad, because you are all very dear,” he continued. “But the call to God, to mission and to ministry, is more powerful. That is why I feel the call is greater, even with the human element of fear and sadness. I leave with such joy in my heart, knowing God will be with me every step of the way, and give me the good graces I need to be a good pastor to the people of Utah.”