We should be happy Cardinal Luis Tagle still belongs to us

The charismatic cardinal

The charismatic cardinal

By Rachel E. Khan

There was stunned silence among the 300,000-strong crowd gathered at St. Peter’s Square after the new Pope’s name was announced in Latin on March 13th.

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not one of the “pope-ables” touted by the media so the general reaction was: “Who did he say it was? Did we hear it right?” I can imagine the initial reaction of Filipinos around the world was one of disappointment. No, Cardinal Luis Tagle is not the pope.

In democratic political elections, voters can be swayed by media popularity. In papal elections, cardinals are swayed more by the Holy Spirit than the media. ‘Papabili,’ the Italian term given by Vatican watchers for pope-ables, are mere media creations and have nothing to do with actual “candidates” for the papacy.

According to reports, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio came in second (albeit a far one) to Ratzinger’s during the previous elections. Had Pope Benedict XVI declined the nomination, he could have been pope as early as 2005. But, the Argentinian press asserts that Pope Francis is media shy. Therefore, he would never be among the papabili because he would never attract the Vatican watchers’ attention.

On the other hand, both Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle and Sao Paulo Cardinal Odilo Scherer have been tagged as papabili by no less than CNN Vatican analyst John Allen. Among reasons for citing them is that they come from countries with the most number of Catholics in their respective regions. Both are charismatic men, who are able to rally their constituents for a cause; doctrinally competent; and, media savvy.

Cardinal Tagle first attracted Vatican watchers during the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist and the 2008 Synod of the Word of God, wherein he gave impressive contributions. In a 2008 international Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, Canada, he was said to have brought down the house in tears with his speech. He is also tech-savvy, he hosts an online program on YouTube and has his own Facebook page.

I can only guess that Cardinal Tagle will happily go home after the March 19 installation of the new Pope, relieved that he is not saddled with the weight of the Church. A story goes that when he was informed by the Vatican that he would succeed Cardinal Rosales to the archdiocese of Manila, he deferred its announcement, “just in case the Pope changed his mind.”

The papacy, despite its undeniable socio-political influence, is not a position of worldly power. In Catholic terms, the pope is “servus servorum Dei,” the servant of the servants of God, as Jesus explains to the Apostles in Mark 9:35: “Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

Thus, while Filipinos the world over may have been wishing for a Filipino pope, they should consider that had their wish been granted, it translates to: 1) the loss of a great leader for the local Church because we will now share him with the rest of the world; 2) condemning their countryman with the burden of Christ’s cross for decades because of his youth.

Biographies and documentaries of Pope John Paul II reveal that his Polish constituents were not exactly thrilled that he became Pope. Their initial reaction was more like “Oh no, we have lost him. He no longer belongs to us.” I think we should be happier that we still have Cardinal Tagle in Manila. Besides, he is still not completely out of the papal race. It is very likely that he will still be around for the next conclave.

Pope Francis 1

Pope Francis 1

Now, Pope Francis I, has shown in this early stage how seriously he takes the role of servant to the servants of God. The name chosen by each pope is telling of his papacy. When the previous one chose Benedict, it was clear that his papacy was about renewing the faith. In the early Middle Ages, St. Benedict pulled out Catholicism from the dark ages following the fall of the Roman Empire.

Francis, on the other hand, can translate to a pope who intends to rebuild the Church from within. St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, was a humble Italian monk who, in an apparition of the Crucified Christ, was called to “repair my Church.”

Telltale are the words of Cardinal Bergoglio himself in an interview on the needs of the Church. “Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organise missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation. This is the style of the parishes and the diocese itself. Other than this, we also try to reach out to people who are far away, via digital means, the web and brief messaging, ” he said.

Rachel E. Khan is the Research and Publications Director of the Singapore-based Asian Media Information and Communication Centre. She holds an MS Journalism from Columbia University and is an avid reader of Pope Benedict XVI’s works.

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