Draw them close to me.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle on Saturday said this was Pope Benedict XVI’s message in elevating him to the College of Cardinals—to bring the Philippines nearer to the Holy Father, thereby enriching the Catholic Church worldwide through the Filipino faith.
In his first Mass since coming home from Rome, Tagle said his inclusion on the list of six prelates who will be made cardinals on Nov. 24 at the Vatican was a sign that Benedict XVI wanted to learn more about the faith of Filipino Catholics.
“The Holy Father wants our archdiocese to be always close to him so that our experience, particularly our testimonies of faith, would become part of his thinking and enrich the universal Church,” he added.
At the end of his homily at San Fernando de Dilao Parish in Paco, Manila, Tagle said the development was “so unexpected.”
“This is not me being recognized. It is the whole people of God here in Manila and in the Philippines who are being recognized,” he said.
Tagle recalled his having worked with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for six years on the Vatican’s International Theological Commission (ITC), which Church observers believe is one of the factors behind his appointment to Manila and his being named a cardinal.
The ITC is a select group of Catholic theologians from across the globe.
“I was named a member of the ITC for five years by Pope John Paul II in 1997. But because there was a jubilee in 2000, our term was extended for one more year. Our head was then Cardinal Ratzinger who is now Pope Benedict XVI,” said Tagle.
“So for almost six years, I worked with him. I didn’t stay in Rome because I would go home (to the Philippines) but we got to know each other and we may not have become very close friends. But at least in our work, we were together,” he added.
Tagle recalled that at one time, he made a faux pas during one of the ITC’s formal meetings and it was Ratzinger who rescued him.
“At one time, we were all quiet because there was one theologian giving a lecture. I was listening and was taking notes when the lecturer said something that surprised me,” Tagle said.
“I blurted out, ‘Huh?’ forgetting that the microphone in front of me was turned on and so my reaction was heard in the entire hall. I felt ashamed and just bowed my head,” he added.
Tagle said he wondered what Ratzinger, who as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) presided over the ITC, would think of what he did.
“So I slowly turned my head and looked at where he was sitting. It turned out he was also looking at me. When our eyes met, he winked at me. He was probably saying, ‘It’s okay.’ So, he also has that sense of humor,” he added.
Tagle was in Paco to attend the formal launching of the “Year of Faith” in the Manila archdiocese to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th year of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Among those who attended the Mass were his parents, Manuel and Milagros Tagle, and former Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Dee.
Tagle warned Filipino Catholics against being “practical atheists” or people claiming to believe in God but not practicing their faith.
“We should proclaim our faith and not be ashamed about it. Before, when a jeep would pass by a Church, everyone would make the sign of the cross at the same time. Nowadays, some are ashamed to show their faith,” Tagle said.
“Why be afraid to say, ‘I’m a Catholic.’ Why be afraid to say ‘I’m a believer.’ Maybe we have become like those practical atheists who with their lips claim they have their faith but in practice avoid proclaiming that he or she is a Christian,” he added.
Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J., a member of the ITC for 12 years and its first Asian member, said Tagle developed “good chemistry” with Ratzinger—one of the “decisive factors” that led to Tagle becoming Manila archbishop and cardinal.
“I think he really likes Chito… They became good friends at the commission… They had good chemistry,” Arevalo said in an interview at Loyola House of Studies in Quezon City.
Arevalo, who was appointed to the commission in 1974, said the Pope was apparently impressed with Tagle’s work on the commission and they became good friends even though Ratzinger was by personality “very reserved.”
“I know for a fact that they became good friends in that commission. Now, that has to be taken carefully because Cardinal Ratzinger was socially very reserved. He was not a very outgoing person,” Arevalo said.
He said the Pope’s “very warm and fatherly” personality came out after he became Supreme Pontiff in 2005.
“At the beginning of his pontificate, when he began to change, they were calling him Sua Santita, which is the usual title in Italian for ‘His Holiness.’ Now, it’s Sua Dolcezza or ‘sweetness,’” Arevalo said.
Arevalo served on the ICT in the mid-1970s with the then Fr. Ratzinger, who was already a famous theologian, having served as an expert in the Second Vatican Council, and again in the early 1980s when Ratzinger presided over the commission as CDF chief.
“But within that reservation, Tagle and Ratzinger became good friends, so much so that I have a story from Archbishop Tagle himself,” he added.
Arevalo said that, in one of the commission’s meetings, Ratzinger praised Tagle when the chapter of a theological document he was assigned to work on was passed without any serious objection from the other members. Ratzinger noted that it was the first time that happened.
However, Arevalo said it was not just because Pope Benedict personally knew Tagle that he became Manila archbishop.
“It would probably not be correct to say it was the decisive (factor). People in the know believe that perhaps the most decisive single factor was that (former Manila Archbishop Gaudencio) Cardinal Rosales really wanted him to be his successor,” Arevalo said.
“Cardinal Rosales did not make it a secret that he was strongly recommending Archbishop Tagle to be his successor,” he added.
Arevalo said that Archbishop Edward Adams, the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines at the time of the changing of the guard in Manila, also favored Tagle.
Arevalo also said that Benedict XVI reportedly even “intervened” when Tagle’s appointment to Manila last year was delayed by “objections” from some groups in the country.
“(Tagle’s) nomination was made in May (2012). As a matter of fact, Cardinal Rosales had said goodbye to all the parishes by the end of May because he was told that Archbishop Tagle was to succeed him at the end of May,” Arevalo said.
“It did not happen because there were individuals and groups in the Philippines who were pushing for some other candidates and they were trying to convince the Holy Father… by letters that (Tagle) was not the right person,” he said.
Arevalo said unverified reports from Rome said the Pope asked Vatican officials why Tagle’s appointment had not been announced.
When he was told that there were “objections,” the Holy Father supposedly asked if they had checked if these were true.
“(When) they said, ‘No we have not found any truth to the more negative comments,’ (the Pope) supposedly said: ‘He’s the Archbishop of Manila. It’s finished,’” Arevalo said.
“So, when (Tagle) was approached by the nunciature, he asked if he could have a few days to pray over it. He was told ‘No. This is not a question of your saying ‘Yes or No,’” he said.
“You have already been appointed. What we’re asking you to do is to make the formal act of acceptance. It’s an act of obedience because you’ve already been appointed,” he said.
He said Tagle once told him when he was still Bishop of Imus, he attended a Vatican meeting where the cardinal who was presiding did not pay attention when Tagle gave his views on the subject they were discussing.
“I will not name the cardinal but when Chito would give his opinions, he would be talking to the guy beside him or whoever,” Arevalo said.
Near the end of the meeting, they had an audience with the Pope, who warmly greeted Tagle and spent more time speaking with him than with the other prelates.
By the time of their next session, the cardinal was giving his full attention to Tagle whenever he spoke.
“Because the Pope showed (Tagle) a certain warmth and spent a little longer time with him, (afterward) whenever he would speak, the cardinal would really listen. So, it is true that the relationship is warm,” he added.