RIP: Former Venezuela Bishop Onell A. Soto

August 7, 2015


The Rt. Rev. Onell A. Soto, 82, who served as the Anglican bishop of Venezuela and as assistant Bishop in the Dioceses of Atlanta and Alabama, died Aug. 5.

He worked to spread the love of God through all facets of his life, whether as a journalist, a minister, a leader, a mentor, and a family man. He pioneered short news stories before Twitter, made sure that the church in Venezuela became a national church, and never stopped sharing his infectious sense of humor.

Soto was born Nov.17, 1932 in Omaja, Cuba, in the son of Juan Soto Vega and María Almaguer Mayo. After spending his childhood in San Agustín and Matanzas, he studied medicine at the University of Havana until it was closed for political reasons in 1956. In 1957 he left Cuba for the United States and enrolled in Boston University’s College of Medicine. After returning to Havana, he married Nina Ulloa, director of Christian education of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, in 1960. The couple fled the Castro regime, and left Cuba, and he enrolled in the University of the South’s School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he earned a degree in divinity. He was ordained to the priesthood in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1965, and started a new life as a missionary for The Episcopal Church.

Onell and Nina’s love for the Church, and their deep faith and sense of evangelism, led their work as missionaries. He led a parish in Ecuador and served as executive secretary of Province IX of The Episcopal Church in El Salvador. On returning to the United States in the late 1970s he served as mission information and education officer of world mission for The Episcopal Church in New York.

In 1987, he was elected Anglican Bishop of Venezuela where he served until 1995 and was awarded the Orden del Libertador Simón Bolívar, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his contributions to Venezuela’s moral and spiritual welfare. He was then appointed assistant bishop in the Diocese of Atlanta, and in 1999 assistant bishop in the Diocese of Alabama. He retired in 2002 and moved with Nina to Miami.

Soto worked tirelessly for the expansion of the mission of The Episcopal Church throughout Latin America and the world. He was a gifted communicator who understood the power of media to expand ecumenism and evangelism. Before the internet era, he was a pioneer in developing and distributing the word and mission of the church through short news stories. He started with the newsletter Rápidas in 1971 and continued with several others until, in his retirement, he wrote Rapidísimas, which ran in several newspapers, online (including Episcopal News Service) and as an email newsletter until nearly the end of his life. Additionally, and for 25 years he helped Nina edit Día a Día, the Spanish-language version of The Episcopal Church’s daily devotional Forward Day by Day.

He was a loving husband and father, and a tireless advocate for others. He possessed a sparkling sense of humor and a deep love of all things Cuban.

Soto is survived by his loving wife of 55 years, Nina Soto; his children and their spouses: Ana María Soto and Gerardo Cárdenas, Lidia Soto-Harmon and Robert Harmon, Onell and Robin Soto, and Elena Soto-Chapa and Santiago Chapa; and his six grandchildren: Tomás and Nina Harmon, Susana Cárdenas-Soto, and Cristina, Alicia, and Lucas Chapa.

A gathering and funeral will be held for him on Aug. 8, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Viewing will begin at 2 p.m. Services will begin at 3 p.m.

A memorial service will also be held Sept. 5 at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Miami, starting at 4 p.m.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, 1300 SW 1st Street, Miami, FL 33135

Condolence notes can be sent to Mrs. Nina Soto, 3350 Torrremolinos, Doral, FL 33178

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