1st Pinoy bishop in US retraces roots

- Jose Aravilla -
Newly ordained Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis said yesterday he came back to the Philippines to "retrace his roots" in the country he left 24 years ago.

Solis, the first Filipino bishop to be ordained in the United States, said he would never have been named to his present post had he not taken a side trip to visit relatives in the US.

Solis, then a young priest without his own parish when he was in the Philippines, was on his way to Rome for post-graduate studies on canon law when he made his side trip to the US. Little did he know that he would never make it to Rome then, much less pursue higher studies.

He ended up staying in the US, leading one parish after another. He arrived in the country Sunday, taking time out from his job of overseeing one of the largest archdioceses in the US.

"I’m coming back to my own roots. I am retracing the relationships and the places that have been a part and parcel of my life as a priest and in achieving the honor I was given," Solis said.

The 50-year-old bishop is a native of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, where a celebration will be held in his honor.

He added that he came back to thank his relatives, "the people and my formators in the seminary and our country for having an influence in my life as a priest and as a newly ordained bishop."

Solis, who was given the task of ministering to ethnic groups throughout the archdiocese, said he found why his brief stopover became a lifetime journey guided only by faith.

Pope John Paul II named Solis to his present post last December. He is now one of the five auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese, which covers three counties — Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara.

There are about five million Catholics out of 11 million residents in the archdiocese where Masses are held every Sunday in 42 languages, including Filipino.

Home to some 400,000 Filipinos, the archdiocese incorporates 287 church parishes in 120 cities.

"It is a beautiful place to see. It gives you an idea what the Church is all about," he said of his diocese. "It is the universality in Catholicism, even though it consists of many cultures, many races, many languages and still (it is) one family."

Solis described the archdiocese’s ethnic groups as "a beautiful tapestry of different colors, different shapes. It consists of one beautiful picture of harmony, unity and solidarity, that is what the Church is all about."

In an interview with journalists at his family’s home in Quezon City, Solis said he no longer makes plans for himself anymore.

"My life has been an open relationship with God and the Church. Wherever I felt needed, I accept the task assigned to me. I don’t choose where I would like to go. I just try to discern where God is leading me. I just followed the dictates of God," he said. "I don’t know how to say it, but when I made my commitment to the church in the US, I put myself in the service of the Catholics in the US."

Solis said 35 percent of the Catholic population in Los Angeles are Latin Americans while 20 percent are Filipinos, whose volunteerism he admires.

"Filipinos are wonderful wherever you go," he said. "I felt that love and support from my kababayan when I was a priest. In the United States Filipinos are awesome. They share their love. They share their support. Whatever programs or undertaking that you have, they are there for the Church, not only for us (priests)."

Solis observed that the migrants are actually exerting their religious influence in the US.

"You would see the influence of religiosity of foreigners or people who come to migrate in the US. The influx of the migration into the US have changed tremendously — the color, the shape of parish communities. (Now there are) bilingual celebrations of masses," he said.

Solis said he and his fellow priests in the diocese are working to realize their dream of having "each culture, each ethnic group" respected and recognized.

"Eventually people of different races and cultures and ethnicity will be able to sit around a table, at the altar ... No longer as a Filipino, Hispanic, Irish, Italian, Polish ... but simply as God’s children," he said.

Solis said he wants to see the day when the Catholic faithful are "able to transcend our cultural boundaries and to look at each other not according to the color of our skin, the shapes of our eyes or noses, the accent of our languages ... but to speak only one language — the language of life, the language of love with one another."

During his three-week stay in the Philippines, Solis is scheduled to pay a visit to President Arroyo to extend his "personal blessings." He also sympathized with the President over her decision to withdraw the Philippine humanitarian contingent from Iraq to save the life of a Filipino hostage.

"I feel sad for any government leader who comes to that situation and (has to) make a decision. I mean the decision of (the) President is very unpopular, because I read from the newspapers it is a contract or a working relationship with the coalition forces," he said. "On the other hand you are saving the life of a Filipino. The thing I noticed is her values. That life is very important to her."

Solis will also pay courtesy calls on the Apostolic Papal Nuncio Most Reverend Antonio Franco and on Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales.











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