By Perry Diaz
Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Gokim Tagle is Primate of the Philippines and archbishop of the diocese of Manila. He is the country’s 32nd archbishop and when he was named a cardinal in October 2013, he became the second youngest cardinal in the world (he is just two years older than Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India). Cardinal Tagle is already a household name in the Philippines and is often seen around Manila, commuting to work on his bike. At 62, he is one of the youngest “papabile” (one who is likely or possible candidate to be elected pope). Many Filipinos are hoping he will become Asia’s first pope.
Fr Francis Lucas, executive secretary of the Filipino bishops’ commission on social communication and mass media, believes Cardinal Tagle has the qualities necessary to be the next Bishop of Rome. “He’s humble, meek, simple, bright, media-savvy, spiritual,” he told GMA News. “He prays a lot… you can’t see any conceitedness in him.”
Born in Manila on June 21, 1957 to Manuel Topacio Tagle Sr and Milagros Gokim Tagle, he and his only brother, Manuel Gokim Tagle Jr, were brought up in a devoutly Catholic environment. At the age of three he was already able to recite the rosary. He went to school at St Andrew’s in Parañaque City where he hoped to become a doctor. But when he visited with his parish priest he was struck by the needs of a poor parish and felt a calling to become a priest. As a seminarian of the San Jose Major Seminary he read philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University, the second highest-ranked university in the Philippines. He then went on to study theology at the Loyola School of Theology. He completed his licentiate and doctorate at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC., where he earned a doctorate in theology, writing his dissertation on the evolution of episcopal collegiality since the Second Vatican Council.
He was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 24 and was appointed pastor at St Augustine parish in Mendez, Cavite. He taught theology at three different seminaries, one in Cavite and two in Metro Manila.
In 1997 Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Fr Tagle as a member of the International Theological Commission, where he became a close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI, who was president at the time. Assisting the Holy See and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Tagle played a key role in examining and addressing doctrinal questions. Fr Tagle developed ties with the progressive theological School of Bologna, contributing to the school’s controversial history of the Second Vatican Council project, which interprets Vatican II as a “new beginning” for the Church.
In 2013, Pope Benedict appointed Fr. Tagle cardinal. When Cardinal Tagle received the red hat, he broke down to tears, which led an observer to comment, “A leader of the Church can be emotional at times, but not all the time.” Cardinal Tagle apologized to Pope Benedict XVI the next day. The Pope replied, “No, you don’t have to say sorry. We need heart in the Church.
In 2015, Tagle was elected president of Caritas Internationalis, the global confederation of national Catholic charities; he was re-elected to the position in May. And, in late 2014, he was elected to a six-year term as president of the Catholic Biblical Federation. (Source: Catholic Herald)
The Red Pope
Recently, Pope Francis announced a significant appointment. He appointed Cardinal Tagle as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. In his new role in the Catholic Church, he will head the office that deals with most of the dioceses in Africa, Asia, and Ocenia and shape the church in these territories.
His appointment is very important because the influence of his congregation is far-reaching. Originally called the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide), it was created in 1622 to deal with the missions opened up by European colonization.
The Propaganda Fide, “Prop” for short, does the work of both the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Clergy. The Prop is responsible for nominating and supervising bishops throughout Asia, Africa, and Oceania, which is about one-third of the dioceses in the world. As prefect, Cardinal Tagle will look for candidates who will support the pastoral vision of Pope Francis. His congregation can also influence how seminaries train future priests.
Under the proposed reform of the Curia, the congregation will have two sections: one for the missions and the other re-evangelizing the old Christian Propaganda world. This has led many Vatican observers to refer to its prefect as the Papa Rosso (Red Pope), for the scarlet robes that the cardinal wears.
Coming from Asia, Cardinal Tagle will be sympathetic to Pope Francis’ desire that Christianity reflect local cultures and traditions rather than simply imitating how Catholicism is lived in Europe.
As prefect, Cardinal Tagle will also distribute funds collected by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which supports missionary work around the world. Here he could direct the money to serve the people rather than the clergy. Pope Francis wants a poor church serving the poor, yet in some missionary countries the clergy live better than their people.
Cardinal Tagle is an enthusiastic supporter of Pope Francis, who needs all the support he can get from the Vatican’s Curia. Cardinal Tagle shares the same pastoral approach to church issues as does Pope Francis. He definitely is pro-Francis and would support his agenda. It is expected that Cardinal Tagle, known as the “Asian Francis,” would seek to appoint bishops for missionary territories that would be in the mold of himself and Pope Francis.
But Tagle’s high-profile appointment has all the benefits of being close to the powers-that-be in the Vatican. It certainly grooms him as a “papabile,” a strong contender to succeed Pope Francis who turns 83 later this month. In any case, the decision to choose the next pope rests on the cardinals who will elect him at the next conclave.
Cardinal Tagle is supportive about the agenda of Pope Francis, speaking out for migrants and refugees, and trying to implement the Gospel of the Poor in his role as President of Caritas, the Church’s charitable arm. Cardinal Tagle is a passionate communicator, having hosted hour-long television programs in the Philippines on the Bible and questions of faith. He comes over as humble and joyful, and regularly tears up when talking about the suffering of people he has encountered through his ministry.
Rome can no longer see itself, and Europe, as at the center of Christianity. It is tasked with serving the growing missionary churches. Propaganda Fide, some in Rome argue, has been one of the slowest to adopt this vision, and to adopt the reforms of the Second Vatican Council which sought to give a voice to local churches and bishops.
Like Pope Francis, Cardinal Tagle is a Roman “outsider” having never studied or worked in the Eternal City until now. The decision to give him one of Rome’s biggest jobs is a way of testing his mettle ahead of a future conclave. One of the reservations some have about Cardinal Tagle’s candidacy is whether he is robust and savvy enough to handle the brutal politics of the Roman Curia. Working at Propaganda Fide will be a chance to see how he fares. His potential as future pope will depend in his new role and what the cardinals think about the current pontificate at the next conclave. If they have a favorable impression perhaps Cardinal Tagle would seem more attractive. However, if they have a negative impression, the cardinals would thumb him down. But that is still in the future, which gives Cardinal Tagle enough time to do a great job as the Papa Rosso.
Indeed, Cardinal Tagle is a shining rising star where evangelization of peoples of Asia, Africa, and Oceania would be on top of his agenda. (Source: National Catholic Register) (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)