Cardinal Tagle celebrates mass in NYC: ‘A gift to listen to him’

Pope Francis promoted Cardinal Tagle to the highest rank of cardinal, Cardinal-Bishop, in May 2020. Photo by Giorgio Alfeche

By Lindy Rosales

Retired nurse Ave Pimo was one of many who braved the thick crowd at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to listen to Luis Cardinal Tagle celebrate mass commemorating the 40th anniversary of San Lorenzo Ruiz Devotion in the United States. 

 “I believe it is a gift to listen to him,” she said.

It was not Pimo’s first time to see the prelate.  She had attended a spiritual retreat years ago when Tagle was still a bishop and before he was appointed Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples by Pope Francis.

“He looks like he has aged a bit,” she said. “I guess it’s the stress of the many responsibilities on his shoulders. Let us pray for him.”

Tagle was in New York City this week to celebrate mass at Patrick’s Cathedral.  Filipino Americans were excited to see him on the beautiful spring day of June 1. It was a mixed crowd of masked and unmasked attendees. Social distancing was no longer required in the church’s seating arrangements as people took their place in the pews waiting for the service to begin.  

As the beautiful sounds of the Tagalog church songs and communion hymns reverberated throughout St. Patrick’s, I felt goosebumps at the back of my neck. Childhood memories of years of Catholic masses in the Philippines came rushing through my mind. My family going to Sunday masses in our hometown in Butuan City in Mindanao. Some songs have changed over the years but many have remained the same. The crowd in attendance that day was a testament to the formidability of the Filipino spirit and the people’s strong Catholic faith even in a foreign country.

The next day, June 2, the Tagle visited Elmhurst Hospital, where many Filipinos work as nurses and health care professionals. In early 2020, it was the unfortunate epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral with his mass servers. Photo by Giorgio Alfeche

“I bring you greetings from Pope Francis and greetings also from the many mission directors,” he said.  “As it is obvious, I come from Asia. I come from the Philippines. When I was a small boy, I really wanted to become a medical doctor. That was my dream. That was the interest of my life. In fact, at the age of 13, I started reading medical books to prepare myself for medical school. But, yeah, it was not meant to be. I was tricked into an exam…that I thought was an entrance exam to medical school. But it ended up being an exam to the seminary. So well, here I am.”

The crowd loved his anecdote.

He shared his thoughts about his vocation and what the priesthood means to a community.

He said: “We priests are used to being called to hospitals, clinics and even homes, when there is a sick person. And it always hits me. That this ministry to the sick is quite unique because you encounter people at their most vulnerable moments. And you don’t encounter only the sick person, you encounter family members, you encounter the whole community. And we are bound together by the common condition of vulnerability, of helplessness.”

Tagle was the 32nd Archbishop of Manila from 2011 to 2019.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in pre-divinity from Ateneo and a master’s degree in theology from Ateneo’s Loyola School of Theology. He earned his Doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of America. He was ordained in the Diocese of Imus, Cavite, in 1982.  In December 2001, he was appointed bishop of Imus.

At Elmhurst Hospital surrounded by nurses and health care workers.  His dream was to become a doctor.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Tagle the 32nd archbishop of Manila in October 2011, to succeed Cardinal Guadencio Rosales. Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the College of Cardinals in October 2012. He was the seventh Filipino to be made a cardinal of the Catholic Church. 

Pope Francis named Tagle Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in December 2019.  Tagle was the second Asian to head that Congregation. Pope Francis promoted him to highest rank of cardinal, Cardinal-Bishop, in May 2020.  He is the first Filipino to be included in that rank of the College of Cardinals. 

Jackie Guerrero from Nutrition Services said she was happy to hear the inspiring words of the cardinal.  “Masaya ako. I feel special.”

Remy Parayno, who lives in Oakland, Queens, said she felt “blessed.”  It was her deceased mother’s birthday that day and she was listening to the cardinal. “Minsan, kahit anong hirap ng buhay if you believe and meron kang faith, everything goes by”.

Tagle arrived at the hospital accompanied by Monsignor Kieran Harrington of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He came up the stage, removed his mask, peered at the laptop, and saw his image. He quipped, “Looks like me”, prompting laughter from the mostly scrubs-wearing crowd.

He shared his thoughts with sincerity and humility, but also cracked some jokes.  He did not use any index cards or any notes; he spoke from the heart. After his remarks, he mingled with the nurses and obliged requests for photo ops and selfies.

He will be remembered for a very long time.

© The FilAm 2022

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: