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Cardinal “Chito” Tagle-The Poor Man’s Guardian: Will he be the next to wear the Shoes of the Fisherman?

I recall I had the chance to contribute an article in a Filipino Catholic magazine based in NYC about the designation of His Eminence, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in 2015 (few years after his appointment as Cardinal in 2012) as the President of Caritas Internationalis, an international organization established 65 years ago by the Catholic Church “to serve the poor and to promote charity and justice” throughout the world. It was an honor for us Filipino Catholics to have a Cardinal from the Philippines heading in a concurrent capacity of a humanitarian and development arm of the Church which advocates charity and justice, particularly for the plight of the masses.

Late last year (December 2019), we were surprised of the news that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered the Cardinal a top post equivalent to a Cabinet position of the Vatican state, specifically as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples which was previously held by Cardinal Fernando Filoni. Such position is better known as the “Red Pope” or “Papa Rosso” in the Roman Curia because of its crucial role, the primary responsibility of which is to spread the Good News particularly the Catholic faith to everyone and to oversee the activities of about 4,000 dioceses throughout the world.

Just few months after the said appointment, another important milestone in the Cardinal’s life happened. On April 14, 2020, the Holy Father promoted him anew as a cardinal-bishop, making him as one of the 11 cardinals occupying the upper echelons in the Vatican. Based on accounts, cardinal-bishops are normally assigned to suburbicarian sees or dioceses outside Rome but neighboring the city. However, Cardinal Tagle wasn’t given said suburbicarian diocese, instead his appointment was based on a “rescript”, similar to an Executive Order from the Head of the State ( in this case the Holy Father being the Head of Vatican State) giving him the same status similar to that of other cardinal-bishops.

All of these happened within a span of 12 years. As Filipino Catholics, we should be proud and honored of this development. For the 1st and 3rd appointments, the Cardinal was the first Asian to be designated as such while the 2nd one, he was the second. However, there were some significant events also in his clergy life where he was also given adjunct duties as members of certain committees and organizations within the church during the said period. Wow, what a career trajectory in his priestly life!

The world today is facing many challenges and keeping up with these demands and changes of times could be daunting. Cardinal Tagle himself expressed concerns on the so-called “typhoon of poverty” and “an earthquake of corruption”, injustice and human trafficking which are ravaging people’s dignity these days. However, what is more challenging these days and could be a head-spinning endeavor for the Cardinal and his team is the Covid-19 pandemic wherein World Health Organization (WHO) branded it as the enemy against humanity – a serious global health risk which could hamper the implementation of their plans and programs. The impact of this pandemic is enormous. Various businesses have shutdown, and schools were closed. Many people have been isolated, they became unemployed, worried, and afraid of what may happen next, leaving them with no option where to source income for daily sustenance. Our Churches have not been spared. Some of them are still in lockdown or in limited seating capacity during Holy Masses, and donations to these institutions have plunged, in the same way, pilgrimages and other funding related activities are called off. As such, our Churches are feeling the financial effects of this virus.

It will be recalled that the Cardinal, in his speech at the Luneta Park which happened during the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in 2015, informed the Holy Father that the Filipinos want to go with him in “spreading the light of Jesus”, not necessarily in Rome but to the “peripheries”! Specifically, he requested the Holy Father to send Filipinos as his missionaries of light particularly in the shanties, prison cells, hospitals, even in politics and social communications.

As I was writing this, I couldn’t help but wonder, could this be God’s response to the wishes of the Cardinal, his being elected as the President of Caritas Internationalis, and the new Prefect of the Evangelization of the Peoples, for him to be the guardian of the poor and defender of justice and human rights? Maybe, yes! But how about this thought of him being a strong contender as the next priest to wear the shoes of the fisherman? Who knows, right? But only God knows….

Well, with the Cardinal’s humble, happy and simple way of life, the gargantuan task accompanying his new post would seem minute. The task maybe huge but it would seem easy for him to tackle the problems because he has the heart and compassion for the poor. Most of all, his positive stance that the “work” can be done not because of him and his limited capabilities but because of God’s love for the poor.

As I have always stated, I don’t know the Cardinal personally except for his talks and articles which are made publicly. That’s where I came to know him. At times, I used to write some comments on his posts in social media simply letting him know that I prefer the way he addresses current issues peacefully. Even if he has reservations on some of the current administration’s policies, he has not really criticized nor responded aggressively to the wrongful allegations hurled against the Church or at him personally (at least not in public). These traits, I admire in the Cardinal, hence, this blog! ( Hey, this could be useful tips for our priests wishing that someday they could be given a similar opportunity in Rome! SMILE, GOD LOVES US ALL…