On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, Pope Francis has named Cardinal Tagle as the New Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples. This position (also called “The Red Pope”) is considered a top Vatican post, overseeing mission territories of the Church.
He is the second Asian to be appointed to this post and the second Filipino to be nominated Prefect of a dicastery (the first Filipino was the late Cardinal José Tomás Sánchez, former prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy from 1991- 1996.)
As a Filipina, I was overjoyed with these news about “Cardinal Chito” (as we fondly call him in the Philippines). Many mainstream Catholic media have already reported many facts surrounding this appointment, namely from a foreign and political perspective. I would rather delve into the man — the humble, down-to-earth priest — that I have closely watched him to be. I came to know him up-close from his preachings and his homilies, including attending his many recollections and viewing his media appearances.
He quickly puts everyone at ease with his simple, but profound reflections and insights. A man of great intelligence and precocious wisdom. He tries to connect us to the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ by using funny anecdotes and heartwarming stories. That smile on his face never wears off. He uplifts the spirits of his flock in the Philippines and affirms their faith. He shows the beauty of simple faith in God.
Anyone who personally crossed paths with him knows how joyful a person he is. Even my husband, Pedro Gabriel, experienced this when we bumped into him inside the Vatican in May this year. We were able to speak to him (more like laugh with him!) for a few minutes as he was waiting for someone to fetch him. He is the epitome of this quote by St Augustine: “We are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our song!”
When he was made Cardinal in 2012, as he was handed his gold ring and biretta, Tagle cried before Benedict XVI and hugged him. He later explained the reason in an interview. “I cry easily.. I guess when you are before a great mystery… that you know that is beyond you — a calling, a grace, a mission — you tremble but at the same time you’re happy.”
People can misconstrue his propensity to cry as a weakness but it is really part of his authenticity and genuineness. Perhaps he had the same reaction when he was told of his new post, since he does not seek high positions, but willingly accepts them whenever he gets assigned to one.
When asked by Arroyo in an EWTN interview segment on January 2014, whether he believed there was a shift under Pope Francis´ approach compared with his predecessors, Tagle replied, “Not really. He is very much interested in knowing, firsthand, what is happening in the local churches and that is in order to strengthen the Church of Rome as the center of charity and communion. So paying attention to the local realities does not negate the role of the center. It will enhance the role of the center, which is to make love and charity (especially missionary charities) circulate.”
During Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the Philippines, Cardinal Tagle, standing alongside with millions of Filipino people under the rain, delivered a heartfelt message full of gratitude and hope, giving the Holy Father (scriptural) assurance, by saying, “Jesus himself said to Peter, ‘I have prayed for you, Peter, that your own faith will not fail.’ Your Holiness, you are blessed. Jesus prays for you. How blessed you are. And we, your beloved Filipinos, unite ourselves with Jesus in praying for you to God, the Father.”
Tagle pledged that Filipinos are with the pope in spreading the light of Jesus and that Filipinos would join him and go to the peripheries: a pledge that seems to have foreshadowed his new mission at the helm of the evangelization of the Peoples.
His moving away to Rome seems like a loss for the local Church in the Philippines, but in the bigger scheme of things and in the long run, it is a huge gain for the entire Universal Church. I believe that Cardinal Tagle is well-suited for this task, since he is aligned with the Pope´s pastoral governance and missionary approach.
[Photo credits: CBCP]