Pope Francis, Tagle hailed as ‘rock stars’
MANILA, Philippines—Acclaimed Vatican journalist John L. Allen Jr. called Pope Francis a “celebrity par excellence” and urged Catholics to put aside their divisions so they could take advantage of his global prominence to promote the Church and its teachings on justice, peace and development.
Allen also called Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, a “rock star” and said the Western media’s focus on his papal prospects has given him a global platform to draw the world’s attention to the needs of the developing world.
The American journalist, a Catholic layman who’s considered by some knowledgeable observers as the best source of information and insight on Vatican affairs, likewise praised Filipino migrant workers for helping revive Catholicism in the post-Christian West and maintaining the historical Christian presence in the Islamic Middle East.
Speaking Wednesday at the 50th anniversary of the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay City, Cavite province, belonging to the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) of missionary priests and brothers, the American journalist and author said Pope Francis has captured world attention with his “humility, simplicity, and message of mercy.”
Allen said Pope Francis, elected a year ago today (Thursday) in a conclave that was called after the extraordinary resignation of Pope Benedict XVI due to poor health the previous month, became Time magazine’s Person of the Year in just 10 months in office. Blessed John XXIII, he added, was named to the honor in 1962 after four years in office, and Blessed John Paul II got it in 1994, already 14 years into his papacy.
The writer said what many people did not know is that Vogue Italy named Francis its Person of the Year in June 2013, when he was only three months in office. “Vogue said it was no contest and it did not have to wait until the end of the year to make the declaration,” he said.
Rock star status
Allen added that the Rolling Stone magazine with Francis on the cover in January was its biggest selling issue.
Before that, Allen said Pope Francis had visited Brazil for the World Youth Day celebration, and at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, he attracted some three million people, “shattering the previous record set by the Rolling Stones.”
He said the Rolling Stone cover and the Pope outdoing a Rolling Stones concert should show that Francis “has rock star status.”
“Pope Francis is the new celebrity par excellence,” Allen added. “Everything he does is, in American journalistic parlance, ‘must-see TV.’”
Francis now has 12 million followers on Twitter, the American journalist said.
“Pope Francis has given the Church a new lease in life, an adrenaline rush,” Allen said.
But Allen said Francis, the first Jesuit Pope, was using his influence to change things. “He’s a crafty, shrewd Jesuit,” he explained. “He’s a smart and savvy Jesuit politician. He wants to achieve a Copernican revolution in office.”
He said Francis wanted pastors to live simple lives to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the poor and needy and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
Allen said Francis wanted a “healing Church, a field hospital after battle.”
The American writer quoted the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel), which urges Catholics to rally behind “new evangelization.”
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote. “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
The author said Francis has used his popularity to advance the Church’s “social gospel.” Last July, for example, he visited Lampedusa, a major entry point in Italy for immigrants from North Africa, to raise awareness about their sufferings. He has also decried the “globalization of indifference” to migrant welfare as well as the “throwaway culture” that disposes of the unborn and human rights.
Allen added that the Pope was instrumental in stopping the United States from bombing Syria last September to oust Bashar Assad, fearful that it would only aggravate the sufferings of Syrians.
Against observations that Francis has retreated from the staunch prolife position of his predecessors, Allen said the Pope was “robust in the defense of the culture of life against the culture of death.”
Francis, too, has repudiated observations that his papacy is an improvement from Benedict’s by stressing papal succession and continuity. He said it was Francis who invited Benedict to join the consistory last month that created 19 new cardinals, including the Philippines’ Cardinal Orlando Quevedo.
Allen said Francis “feels Pope Benedict has still much to contribute to the Church.”
Reforming the Vatican
The writer said the papal continuity was again stressed in the joint canonization on April 27 of John XXIII and John Paul II. The event is a “political act to unify the left (John XXIII) and the right (John Paul II).”
Francis is also using his popularity to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Allen said the Pope had created a Secretariat for the Economy to improve governance of the Holy See’s finances and administration.
As a manifestation of his wish to see more lay participation in the Church, Francis has named eight cardinals and seven lay persons to the economic body. It is headed by Cardinal George Pell, Australian archbishop.
For the forthcoming Synod of Bishops of Family, Francis has also named Cardinal Tagle as one of three copresidents.
Tagle was in the audience, having been main celebrant of the anniversary Mass that morning, and Allen pointed to him. “This guy is a rock star too,” he said.
A former bishop of Imus, Cavite, Tagle has taught Theology of the Priesthood in the Tagaytay seminary. Allen said the prelate had achieved “rock-star status,” especially after the media touted him as a papabile or papal contender during last year’s conclave.
The author said of the papabile series he wrote for the Canadian Catholic online news site Salt and Light, his profile of Tagle had the most hits—700,000. “Every Filipino in the planet was apparently reading it,” he jokingly remarked.
Filipinos, the new Irish
Allen said the “Filipino diaspora” and the presence of the large Philippine migrant population abroad have become the “infrastructure of the future of the Church.”
Allen called Filipinos as “the new Irish,” referring to the 19th-century Irish Catholic immigrants to the United States, who are “moving around the world and spreading the faith.”
He explained that in the United States, if the Filipinos were to abandon the Church, “you may as well turn off the lights and put out the sign that you’re closing shop.”
The Catholic Church is consolidating its presence in the Middle East and even post-Christian Europe and North America through the large migrant population of Catholics from the Philippines, India and Nigeria, he said.
He said with the popularity of Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle and the large Catholic migrant populations, the Church has the chance to change the world.
“As Pope Francis said, ‘We need to get the Church out of the sacristy and into the world,’” Allen said.