Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vatican’s appointment of Cardinal Tagle seeks to address need to provide role-model for Filipino youth, whose grip on their baptismal faith appears to be loosening. New Rome appointee sings Tagalog songs and plays the guitar.

Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle
Filipinos woke up today to the exciting news that 55-year old Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle of the Archdiocese of Manila was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as our newest Cardinal. Reports said the second consistory this year came as a total surprise from the Pope, and speculation is that he may be pushing the completion of membership in the College of Cardinals due to his worsening health.

Actually I was not surprised at Tagle's appointment; in fact I suspected that he would not return from the month-long synod of bishops in Rome without the cardinal’s red hat.

Tagle is one of the youngest ever to be appointed to that most exclusive club in the Church, which is tasked with electing a new pope upon the demise of the reigning one. Tagle is second youngest in this current batch of Cardinals and focus now is on him as the “rising star in Asia,” and that he would be a strong contender for the first Asian Pope in the Church's 2,000-year history.


There’s speculation, of course, that conservative elements in the Vatican, led mainly by the powerful Italian bloc of 30 cardinals, could conceivably sidetrack Cardinal Tagle, who’s said to be identified as a liberal within the Church.

In fact, right in our local church there are a number of far more senior prelates, also thought of as quite spiritual and learned and who are held in some circles as more deserving of the red hat (e.g., the names of Archbishops Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo and Jose Palma of Cebu are being mentioned).

But it seems that the world is turning: who would have thought 50 years ago that a former Polish actor-playwright would ascend to the Throne of St. Peter, followed immediately by an aging German theologian?


 I recall that in the later years of Pope John Paul II’s long reign, as his Parkinson's disease began to worsen, there were speculations that his successor would come from the growing church in Africa, to help focus on the black continent's evangelization. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, was very much a “papabile,” but the 2005 papal conclave ultimately elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI.

Now Tagle’s appointment as our only current active cardinal (we have three retired ones---Gaudencio Rosales, Ricardo Vidal and Jose Sanchez) is said to put the Philippine Church within striking distance of the possible---producing the first Pope from Asia---for a number of reasons.  


One is that ours is regarded as the Asian century, with our region the key propeller of the world economy.  The Asian Church reflects that dynamic, significantly, as film scriptwriter-producer Ma. Fatima “Baby” Nebrida put it, in this Year of the Faith and the Church's thrust toward the "New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."

The term "New Evangelization" is particularly significant for the Philippines as it prepares to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the arrival of Christianity here in 1521. As the larger of only two Catholic nations in Asia (the other is Timor L'Este), Ph is at the vanguard of the re-evangelization of the Old World through the 12 million Filipinos now working abroad. It's they who people increasingly deserted churches of Europe and America.


Secondly, Tagle is regarded as a protégé of Pope Benedict, having worked with him as a young priest in the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican that then Cardinal Ratzinger headed. Could it be that Benedict is this early grooming Tagle, who has been Primate of the Philippines’ lead archdiocese for only a year, as his successor? 

Tagle was schooled in three distinguished Jesuit institutions---the Ateneo University, San Jose Seminary and the Loyola School of Theology---before obtaining his doctorate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of America, graduating from all the three latter institutions summa cum laude.

His brilliant mind and deep grasp of theology apparently impressed Ratzinger; but the old "German Shepherd"---himself regarded in Vatican circles as a brilliant intellectual--- found more impressive his young Asian assistant's ability to impart theology in simplistic terms readily understandable by lay people.

Pope John Paul II, however, was not as impressed with Tagle in the beginning. He pointedly inquired from Ratzinger whether the youthful Chinese-looking priest from Manila was old enough to join that high office!  Ratzinger humorously replied to JPII, “I assure Your Holiness that he has received the Sacrament of Confirmation.”


In his recent remarks before the synod of bishops, Archbishop Tagle emphasized the need for churchmen to be humble---in the footsteps of the Lord.  Apparently he lives this virtue. The story is told that when the Papal Nuncio informed him in 2001 that the Vatican planned to appoint him bishop of Imus, Cavite, Fr. Tagle, ordained in 1982, strongly objected to it---to the point of shedding tears. He said he just wanted to remain a simple priest ministering to the people. But the Vatican was insistent.

Ten years later the Bishop of Imus became Archbishop of Manila and a year later Cardinal.  What else lies ahead?


I earlier wrote that the Vatican’s elevation to the altar last Sunday of St. Pedro Calungsod was its response to the need for a fresh role-model for the Filipino youth---as many of them seem to have loosen their grip on their baptismal faith. Rome’s move to anoint Archbishop Tagle Cardinal is doubtless in this same light: young people can easily relate to him. Comfortably “Chito” to his friends, he has the knack for speaking directly to the masses, cracking 'kenkoy' jokes that can convulse varied audiences with laughter. He also sings Tagalong songs well and plays the guitar.  

I remember his talk at the “Ignatian Festival” at the Ateneo Church of the Gesu last July 21, when  he recalled with a laugh how his spiritual mentor at San Jose Seminary made a big issue of his having taken an air-conditioned bus from Baguio years back, to attend the funeral of a relative in Manila. As he narrated, his mentor drove hard the scholastic's need for discernment in making that decision---even though it only meant a P20 difference from the non-aircon bus. Complete with all the grimaces, Tagle thundered, "Pati ba naman iyong P20 difference, kailangan pa daw ng discernment!" 

But the scholastic got conscience-stricken just the same and took the non-aircon on the way back.  The crowd roared with laughter.


Part of the reason, I suspect, why Tagle was elevated to the Cardinalate  was his ability to steer clear of the deeply-embedded politics in this country. After Jaime Cardinal Sin’s political activism in the dying Marcos years, it’s said that the Vatican has admonished against a similar advocacy.

 It’s not well known that on the night of July 7, 2005, former President Cory Aquino, in the company of ranking Church prelates and some civil officials, went to Malacanang, where she informed President Macapagal Arroyo of her decision (together with the Hyatt 10) to demand  GMA’s resignation the following day. The prelates who joined Cory in the Palace reportedly included Cardinals Gaudencio Rosales and Ricardo Vidal, Bishops Socrates Villegas and Luis Antonio Tagle, and Msgr. Dean Coronel.  

Reports said, however, that except for Bishop Soc Villegas, the other prelates had no idea what Cory was going to demand (they reportedly thought it was to discuss the state of the nation, rocked at that time by the controversy over the tape). In fact, Vidal reportedly said he had nothing to do with Cory’s  demand and proceeded to the door. 

Sources say that Bishop Soc, a protégé of Cardinal Sin, could have had an inside track on Cory’s plan due to his closeness with the Aquino family.  This, however, appears to have been shattered when as Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Villegas denounced President Noynoy’s espousal of the RH bill in his strongly-worded pastoral letter, which was read at the big anti-RH rally last Aug. 4 at the Edsa Shrine.


It remains to be seen in ensuing months just how Cardinal Tagle would comport himself in the political realm, given the controversies P-Noy is wont to kick up with various sectors, including the Church. But the Manila Primate does not seem afraid to make a strong stand on issues. For instance, he spoke out unequivocally against the RH bill and the Church’s pro-poor bias at that EDSA rally, and he’s expected to sustain this.

Given the size of the Filipino faithful and the task of evangelization that the Philippine Church is undertaking throughout the world, it could be easily ready for two or three more Cardinals. And judging from the scope and importance of their jurisdiction, Archbishop Soc Villegas, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, the current president of the CBCP, and Archbishop Arguelles of Lipa easily are top candidates.

With the appointment of Cardinal Tagle, the local church should receive a much-needed shot in the arm, particularly in its mission as Church of the Poor.

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