SALT LAKE CITY — With the sounds of trumpets and the smell of incense in the air, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City installed its 10th bishop Tuesday.
Bishop Oscar Solis, the first Filipino-American to lead a diocese in the United States, pledged to teach and protect his new flock of more than 300,000 Utah Catholics during an afternoon Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
"It's my sacred responsibility to nourish, nurture and feed the faith of God's people in Utah. Like my good predecessors, I will have a ministry that brings the church to the people, centered on encounter and dialogue," Bishop Solis said to a congregation of approximately 1,000 people.
Participants included Catholic and other religious leaders, members of the bishop's family, civic leaders and excited members of the community, who waited nearly two years for a new bishop since the departure of the Most Rev. John C. Wester, now the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were Elders M. Russell Ballard and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder L. Whitney Clayton, senior president of the Seventy.
"There are no better friends than the friends we have in the Catholic Church," Elder Ballard told KSL. "We will be honored to get better acquainted with Bishop Solis and to assure him that we are ready to be his good friend."
"It's a privilege to be included," added Elder Christofferson.
Other local leaders in attendance, according to the program for the service, included the Rev. Michael Imperiale, First Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Mary June Nestler, Episcopal Diocese of Utah; the Rev. France Davis, Calvary Baptist Church; the Rev. Elias Koucos, Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church; Khosrow Semnani, Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake City; Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake City Fire Chief Karl Lieb.
McAdams said he was eager to come and show his support, noting that he's glad to have a new ally in efforts to address homelessness and other local issues.
"As a mayor, I've felt the lack of a bishop over the last two years," he said.
During his remarks, Bishop Solis acknowledged the diocese's long wait for a new bishop with his characteristic wit, causing an outburst of laughter.
"You have waited too long and have high expectations for me. Please let me remind you of my name. It is Oscar Solis, not Jesus Christ," he said. "I am not a messiah, just a humble servant."
Tuesday's Mass wedded ancient Roman Catholic rituals with modern technology, making it an exciting occasion for the local Catholic community, according to Susan Dennin, director of communications for the diocese. Live video of the event was available online for Catholics and other interested viewers around the world.
The event's location symbolizes the authority that comes with the bishop's new position, noted Lawrence Cunningham, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.
"The word 'cathedral' comes from the Latin term 'cathedra,' meaning chair," he said. The Cathedral of the Madeleine on South Temple has been the Salt Lake bishop's seat for 108 years.
The installation rites began with a procession of the more than 30 Catholic archbishops and bishops, who wore floor-length white robes and miters — tall hats with peaks in the front and back symbolizing their office. They walked from the front doors of the cathedral toward the altar as the congregation sang "Lord, You Give the Great Commission," a hymn that asks for God's guidance in pursuing the ministry of the church.
Bishop Solis was near the end of the procession, followed only by the men who would officially install him into his new role. He made his way to a chair placed to the left of the cathedral's altar, waiting there to hear a letter from the leader of the global Catholic community, Pope Francis, read to the assembled worshipers.
The Most Rev. Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's diplomatic representative, or apostolic nuncio, to the United States, read the pope's letter. As expected, Bishop Solis accepted the invitation to serve the Diocese of Salt Lake City and then held the letter, written in Latin, up to show his new community members who stood and cheered.
Bishop Solis was then led by the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, metropolitan archbishop of San Francisco, to the official bishop's chair at the front center of the sanctuary. He was handed a crozier, a 7-foot staff that looks like something a field hand would carry to herd sheep.
"That's the sign that he's the shepherd of the church," Cunningham said.
After the installation rites, Bishop Solis led a traditional Mass, which included Bible readings, a short reflection from the bishop and the liturgy of the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion.
Like the prayer service on Monday night, the Mass was multilingual. There were scripture readings in Spanish, Tagalog and English, and prayers read in those three languages, as well, in addition to West African Creole, Polish, Tongan and Vietnamese.
Bishop Solis has championed diversity in the Catholic Church throughout his career, and he speaks many of the languages featured in Tuesday's service.
"We come from different places and we speak different languages," he said. "And we now call this beautiful state of Utah our home."
Brown, the police chief, said he felt the bishop's message was valuable for even non-Catholics like himself because everyone benefits from the work of a dedicated leader.
"I look forward to serving alongside him in this community," he said.
Similarly, the Rev. Imperiale said he will seek out a friendship with Bishop Solis, noting that he enjoyed his moments of levity during the celebration.
"It's always good to bring real humanity into the seriousness of the moment," he said.
In addition to his reference about unwelcome comparisons to Jesus, Bishop Solis earned laughs by calling himself a "little puppy" compared to previous Salt Lake bishops and mocking his own nervousness.
"There's something going on in this pulpit. Do you feel the ground moving, or is that just my knees?" he asked the delighted congregation.
The bishop's visiting family members, who filled several pews, also brought joy and a few jokes with them to the celebration. His sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts and other loved ones traveled from as far away as the Philippines to take part in the special Mass.
"We love Utah. We weren't able to play in the snow because of our busy schedule, but we did get a taste of it Sunday night," said Celia Tapia, the bishop's sister.
Bishop Solis said he looks forward to all that his new home has to offer, including snow, mountains, stone arches and all the "splendor of nature."
"My dear friends, I stand here in awe and humility as I begin to weave into the fabric of this diocese the strands of my own journey," he said.
Bishop Solis was educated and ordained in the Philippines, and he's been working in the U.S. since 1984. Before accepting his new role in Utah, he served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, most recently as the auxiliary bishop over the San Pedro Pastoral Region.