"Cardinal Tagle has also become a warm, jovial and astute shepherd of all Filipino Catholics especially those in the Filipino diaspora."
I had mixed feelings when I first learned that Pope Francis has appointed Manila’s Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to the Roman Curia, the central governing body of the Catholic Church, to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It instantly dawned on me that Cardinal Tagle will have to vacate the See of Manila—a big loss not only to the country’s mother archdiocese, but to the Catholic Church in the Philippines as a whole. Tagle is not only the archbishop of Manila’s four-million Catholics, but thanks to his weekly homilies streamed on YouTube, he has become a warm, jovial and astute shepherd of all Filipino Catholics especially those in the Filipino diaspora.
My first encounter with him was when he was yet the young articulate Father Chito, one of the country’s brilliant theologians. As a member of the International Theological Commission, he was invited to speak on then Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia” during one of the pastoral assemblies convened in the Archdiocese of Palo. Even then, I was awestruck not only by his articulateness but with his ability to explain the most complex of theological terms in simple language. That is why when he was appointed bishop of Imus in 2001, I was concerned that placing the burden of the episcopacy upon his shoulders would mean his years as a theologian and teacher had come to an end.
I would be proven wrong. As bishop he became a much sought-after speaker in several international gatherings. Most striking were the catechesis he gave during the International Eucharistic Congresses in Quebec (2008) and Dublin (2012). On both occasions, he moved the audience of thousands to tears. His audience was no longer confined to the theology classroom; it had grown into the wider community of faith. No longer was he a simple theology professor, he became as every bishop should be—an authentic teacher of the faith.
Tagle became the 32nd archbishop of Manila in 2011, and as the occupant of the country’s principal archdiocese, he soon became a familiar face on global church scene. He became an active participant in the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization, a worldwide gathering of bishops to discuss the challenges confronting the Church’s mission of spreading the faith, which was convened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. It was at the end of that synod, when it was announced that Archbishop Tagle would become the seventh Filipino to be elevated to the College of Cardinals.
Cardinal Tagle continued to take part in three successive meetings of the Synod of Bishops, impressing bishops from around the world with his joy, insightfulness and vision for the Church. As the president of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, he is highly regarded not only by his brother bishops, but even by his colleagues. In fact, his closeness with Pope Francis was visible when the Pope visited the Philippines in 2015, highlighting striking similarities between the two in terms of their own personal lifestyle, language and concern for the poor. Given his massive online following, he has effectively used social media as a powerful tool to reach out to the faithful, especially to the youth and Filipinos overseas.
It appears providential that close to eight years since his elevation to the cardinalate, Cardinal Tagle has been appointed to the Vatican to oversee the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Equivalent to a Cabinet position in a secular government, his new role as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, also traditionally referred to as the “red pope” or “il papa rosso,” is one of the most important offices in the Catholic Church. Formerly known as the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (or Propaganda Fide), its primary duty is to oversee the missionary activities of the Church, including the appointment of more than a third of all Catholic bishops around the world, especially in the mission territories, and in developing countries where the local Church is too small to be self-sufficient or where the local authorities are hostile to the Catholic faith. Furthermore, the Propaganda Fide also provides material support for the mission territories, especially for the formation of seminarians and missionaries.
The draft document expected to be approved soon by Pope Francis, entitled Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), outlines the impending reform of the Roman Curia. While the document remains a working draft, media reports indicate that it includes the creation of a super dicastery responsible for evangelization which will rank next only to the Secretariat of State, and ahead of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and the oldest of the nine congregations in the Curia. This move of making the Dicastery for Evangelization a preeminent office in the Vatican marks a shift in priority from doctrine and discipline toward evangelization. These reforms are reportedly being made in order to place evangelization at the heart of the Church’s agenda.
(Continued next week)