Continuing his efforts to diversify the Catholic church’s hierarchy, Pope Francis has appointed an Asian American to lead a diocese in the United States for the very first time.
On Tuesday, a papal representative to the United States announced that the pope picked Bishop Oscar Azarcon Solis, an immigrant from the Philippines, to be bishop of the Salt Lake City diocese.
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.
Solis, who came to the United States from the Philippines in 1984, was formerly an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. He will be the first Asian-American fully in charge of an entire diocese as its top bishop, Hoang told The Huffington Post in an email.
He said that Francis’ decision to appoint Solis demonstrates the pope’s support for the “immigrant population all over the world.” Hoang also said this is a great moment for both Asian American Catholics and Pacific Islander Catholics.
“These communities have worked diligently together to bring awareness to their presence by participating actively in the Church. They value the support of the Church when many came as migrants and refugees,” Hoang told The Huffington Post. “Many feel that it is time that the Church not just recognize their many gifts but utilize their eagerness to proclaim the Gospel and promote the Church.”
Asian Americans are a minority within American Catholicism. According to the Pew Research Center, about 3 percent of American Catholics are Asian.
About 18,000 of Utah’s 300,000 Catholics are Asian, according to Susan Dennin, the Salt Lake diocese’s communications director. The largest demographic within that group is the Filipino community.
Since Solis is fluent in Spanish, Dennin told The Huffington Post that the bishop’s arrival in Salt Lake City would also be appreciated by Utah’s Hispanic Catholics, who make up more than 60 percent of Utah’s Catholic population.
“As an immigrant himself, he can speak to the immigrant from his heart,” Dennin told The Huffington Post in an email.
Solis will be officially installed as bishop of Salt Lake City’s diocese on March 7, according to Vatican Radio.