Church ordains fourth Pinoy bishop in US

March 10, 2024 - 12:11 PM
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Auxiliary Bishop Efren Esmilla of Philadelphia speaks after his episcopal ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on March 7, 2024. (Screenshot from Archdiocese of Philadelphia video)

A Catholic priest of Filipino descent was ordained auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in a solemn ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Thursday, March 7.

Bishop Efren Esmilla, 61, was ordained to the episcopate with two other new auxiliary bishops— Keith Chylinski, and Christopher Cooke.

As auxiliary bishops, they will assist Archbishop Nelson Perez in the pastoral care of the archdiocese, one of the largest in the nation with approximately 1.5 million members.

The ordinations took place nearly three months after Pope Francis appointed the Philadelphia priests to the episcopate.

In his homily, Lopez briefly discussed what he called the “job description” of a bishop: to lead, to encourage at times, but most of the time to walk in the midst of his people.

“The bishop at times walks in front of his people– leading. Sometimes the bishop walks behind the people– pushing them. And most of the time, he is called to be in the midst of his people,” he said.

“Do those things with a peaceful and a joyful heart,” the archbishop added.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, reminded the new bishops of the “four forms of closeness” that Pope Francis considers fundamental to the life of a priest: closeness to God, to bishops, to priests, and to the flock.

“I know that you will continue to exercise the kind of closeness of which the pope speaks…,” Pierre said. “Take courage in knowing that you have been prepared well for this new ministry.”

With his episcopal motto “Sicut qui ministrat” (As one who serves), Esmilla stressed that “service must be rooted in compassion because it connects our good works to the fabric of our soul.”

“My journey is not yet over just yet. Today marks a new phase and it is one I accept,” Esmilla said. “I hope you’ll join me in being pilgrims of hope and joy…”

“I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me. I will strive to be worthy of it everyday,” he added.

During the Mass, which lasted three hours, songs were sung in English, Spanish, and Filipino.

Around 20 bishops also concelebrated, including the first Filipino bishop in the US, Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, and Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig, as well as the apostolic administrator of San Pablo diocese in Laguna.

Esmilla was born and raised in Laguna province’s Nagcarlan town. He completed a bachelor’s degree at San Beda University in Manila before migrating to the US in 1987.

He took his priestly formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, where he also earned a master of divinity in 1992.

Esmilla was ordained priest for the Philadelphia archdiocese on May 15, 1993.

Prior to his appointment as bishop, he was serving as a pastor of St. James Parish in Elkins Park and Saint Martin of Tours in Philadelphia.

Esmilla is the fourth Filipino Bishop in the US. The second is Auxiliary Bishop Alex Aklan of Los Angeles, and the third is Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Celino of El Paso, Texas.