Philippine papal bet wants people power for Church

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Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle gives a mass to the faithful at a Catholic gathering in Manila. Filipinos are hoping that 55-year-old Tagle, who was only made a cardinal last year, could become the next pope following the shock resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. AFP

MANILA, Philippines—Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle wants to bring the Catholic Church closer to people, a vision his fans say comes from a genuine passion for helping the poor and one that could make him Asia’s first pope.

The 55-year-old cardinal from a working-class family close to the Philippine capital is being touted at home and abroad as a genuine chance to succeed Pope Benedict XVI during a historic Vatican vote next month.

Tagle has a reputation across the devoutly Catholic Philippines as a humble man with a lifelong commitment to helping the poor, while senior Church figures regard him as a moderate progressive who balances conservative doctrines.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle takes a pedicab during a recent visit in Sto. Niño de Tondo parish in Manila. Photo courtesy of CBCP-NASSA

Tagle, the archbishop of Manila who was appointed a cardinal in November, has refused to discuss his chances for the papacy since Benedict announced he would resign on February 28 due to poor health.

But speaking at a public seminar in Manila last weekend, Tagle elaborated on his well-known views that Church leaders needed to do a better job at reaching out to the people within their communities, particularly the youth.

“The young want to be connected,” Tagle said at the forum.

“That is the basic of the faith — (to be) connected to God, connected to others, to the Church. We need to go back to that fundamental.”

Eloquent and with a soothing voice, Tagle has also made high-profile speeches in recent years calling for a humbler Church that is more open to the public’s concerns.

Born in 1957 in the then-rural town of Imus, about two hours’ drive south of Manila, Tagle’s devout Catholic upbringing exposed him to religious work at an early age.

One of his mentors, Father Romeo Ner, 72, recalled that they first met when Tagle was a young boy and even then he showed remarkable empathy, as well as discipline and intellect.

“He was always number one in school. He was very interested in helping the poor even at a young age, and he was very close to the Church,” Ner told AFP.

“I was amazed because he knew how to recite the rosary and all of its mysteries when he was just three.”

Ner said that as a young priest, Tagle was involved in raising money for parishes that served poor areas, where the future cardinal developed a taste for braised chicken feet — a staple in the slums.

“Giving the poor their true dignity is his passion. He loves them,” said Ner, who as then vicar general of Tagle’s hometown was instrumental in making him one of the country’s youngest bishops at the age of 44 in 2001.

“When he was appointed as cardinal last year, I asked him whether he realized he was now the highest churchman in the country,” Ner said.

“He just said ‘yes’, but appeared not to be very engrossed with the idea. He is very humble that way, and he never craved for any attention.”

Respected Vatican analyst Sandro Magister wrote recently that Tagle could become the first developing world pope, in the absence of notable Church leaders in Africa and Latin America, where the majority of the world’s Catholics live.

Magister wrote in Italy’s L’Espresso magazine that a key point in Tagle’s favor was the Church’s increasing focus on Asia as the future bulwark of the faith.

Tagle is well-positioned because the Philippines is Asia’s only majority-Catholic nation, a legacy of more than three centuries of Spanish rule.

And while Tagle is identified with the progressive wing of the Vatican, Magister noted that even the conservative Benedict had appreciated the Filipino’s “balance of vision and doctrinal correctness”.

At a time when many Church leaders are seen as aloof, Magister also emphasized Tagle’s reputation for connecting with the Philippines’ millions of poor people.

“Especially striking is the style with which the bishop acts, living simply and mingling among the humblest people, with a great passion for mission and for charity,” Magister wrote.

Bookmakers rank Tagle as among the favorites going into the cardinals’ secret conclave in Rome. One popular Irish site has him at 16-1 odds.

Nevertheless, other analysts also point out the momentous nature of electing the first pope from Asia, Africa or Latin America, arguing that another European pope is a safer bet.

In the Philippines, there has been nearly uniform support for Tagle since Benedict’s shock resignation announcement.

“If he becomes a pope, it will be a loss to us, but a gain to the Vatican and the Catholic world,” said Ner, Tagle’s former mentor, reflecting sentiments expressed by politicians, Church leaders and media commentators.

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  • DominadorMedina

    After receiving the red hat as cardinal from Benedict XVI, Cardinal Tagle cried. That was spontaneous emotion which might be needed in the usually too formal atmosphere in the vatican. We need sincere, expressed humanity in the usually formal, by-the-number rituals, movements and business in the center of christianity, a religion of LOVE. We need more than cerebral love contained in many pronouncements. We can afford to be more spontaneous, humane and human. The gospel can be more incarnated into “what we concretely are,”  without artificiality.

    • kanoy


       This year, though, Cardinal Mahony was nowhere to be seen at the gathering, the Religious Education Congress. His workshop on immigration was canceled. The cardinal was relieved of his public duties last month by his successor after the release of 12,000 pages of internal church files revealing how Cardinal Mahony protected priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

      In a rare breach of the deference American bishops usually grant one another, the current archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gomez, said he found the documents “brutal and painful” reading. Cardinal Mahony soon shot back, posting a bitter open letter to Archbishop Gomez on his blog.

      With Cardinal Mahony set to fly to Rome next week to elect a new pope, the prelates’ duel in the country’s largest archdiocese has set off shock waves in the church. Catholics in Los Angeles are re-evaluating the cardinal’s legacy, and newspapers in Italy are running articles asking whether the disgraced cardinal should attend the papal conclave.

      • jundemar cabeguin


      • kanoy

        Top UK Cardinal Resigns After Allegations of ‘Inappropriate Behavior’ With Priests
        February 25, 2013
        Cardinal Keith O’Brien, senior Catholic official in the UK and strong opponent of LGBT equality, resigned amid allegations of “inappropriate behavior” with priests. The allegations come from one former, and three current, priests. O’Brien contested the claims, and was due to retire next month.
        At AmericaBlogGay, John Aravosis has a detailed report, including related background. About the allegations, they indicate that the “inappropriate behavior” included “‘inappropriate contact’ after a long-night of drinking … .” One of those making the allegations was eighteen (a seminarian) at the time of the “inappropriate behavior.”

    • kanoy

      Now Gathering in Rome, a Conclave of Fallible Cardinals
      The sudden resignation of the most senior Roman Catholic cardinal in Britain, who stepped aside on Monday in the face of accusations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward priests years ago, showed that the taint of scandal could force a cardinal from participating in the selection of a new pope.
       His exit came as at least a dozen other cardinals tarnished with accusations that they had failed to remove priests accused of sexually abusing minors were among those gathering in Rome to prepare for the conclave to select a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. There was no sign that the church’s promise to confront the sexual abuse scandal had led to direct pressure on those cardinals to exempt themselves from the conclave.
      Advocates for abuse victims who were in Rome on Tuesday focused particular ire on Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, and called for him to be excluded from the conclave. But Cardinal Mahony, who has vigorously defended his record, was already in Rome, posting on Twitter about the weather.

  • boybakal

    Glad to see the good Cardinal in bullet proof pedicab.

  • bogli_anakdami

    hay naku… kaksaker padre dumbasso archbisupsop card tagle nakasakay sa traysikad…

    poto ops… sarap batukan…

    pero kung sya a naglalakad at may pasang krus, ayos di ba?

    • jundemar cabeguin

       kaw sarap batukan bobo!

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