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Cardinal Tagle: the truth behind the tears

Why he wept when he received the red hat

Cardinal Tagle: the truth behind the tears

Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines wears the red biretta of a cardinal after his elevation by Pope Benedict XVI in November, 2012 (AFP photo)

Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
Vatican City

June 17, 2013

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His tears when he received the red hat from Pope Benedict XVI in November 2012 helped make him an instant darling of the media and of Catholics worldwide.

But more than six months after becoming a cardinal, the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, says he still hasn't got used to people calling him “Your Eminence,” the title Vatican etiquette reserves for cardinals.

Tagle was in Rome to take possession of his “titular church” of San Felice da Cantalice on Saturday. Every new cardinal is assigned a parish church in Rome, which entitles him to elect a new pope.

But on Friday evening, on the occasion of the launch of the Italian translation of his book Easter People: Living Community (Gente di Pasqua, EMI, 2013), he met with eager Italian and foreign journalists who had put him on their list of papabili ahead of the March 2013 conclave.

Tagle was one of the last red hats appointed by Pope Benedict ahead of his resignation – a small group of six who led observers to think that the German pontiff, already resolved to quit, wanted to re-balance the College of Cardinals, which is overwhelmingly European, with churchmen from Asia, Africa and the Americas.

At the book launch, Tagle said the Church in Asia, which has a 2,000 year tradition of being a minority, could help Catholics in the West recognize that secularization and shrinking numbers are not just symptoms of crisis.

“The weariness of the [Western] Church to me seems to be mostly a consequence of an attitude that only looks for the causes and consequences of problems, without recognizing the opportunities that the modern world offers to the Church's work of evangelization,” he noted.

During the hour-long chat, Tagle recounted how he, at age 55, received a puzzling convocation from the Vatican just one day before being announced as the Church's second youngest cardinal.

“Last October I was in Rome for the Synod of Bishops and it was very beautiful. Just two days before, we had celebrated the canonization of the second saint from the Philippines, Pedro Calungsod.”

During the morning of October 23, Tagle received an anonymous note with a phone number and a request to call it during the coffee break.

He did so and was told to go to the Secretariat of State, the Vatican's central administration body, at 4:50pm that day.

“I immediately started wondering: Why 4:50pm? Why not five? And why are they calling me? What did I do wrong?” Tagle said amid laughter from the crowd.

That afternoon the Filipino archbishop asked the president of his synod working group – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who has spent many years in the Roman Curia – what could be the reason for his convocation: “Maybe they are sending you to Syria,” was the answer.

At the time, the Vatican was considering sending a synod delegation to Syria to call for peace in the war torn country. The mission was later aborted as security in the area deteriorated.

“I immediately started thinking that I would have to change my plane ticket,” Tagle said.

When he arrived at the Secretariat of State, he found Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict's ‘prime minister,’ waiting for him.

Bertone started reading him a letter – and Tagle recalled that it was only slowly he started realizing that he was being made a cardinal. The official announcement would come the next day, on October 24.

“There were no questions. Bertone only said ‘I will tell the Holy Father that you have already been informed’.”

The surprise at the unexpected promotion was among the reasons that led to the tears during the Consistory of November 24.

“I cry easily, even if I don't want to. I don't know if it's weakness or strength but [tears] come easily for me. I don't hide my emotions,” Tagle explained.

“Those were the tears of a man who knows himself, his sins and his limits, but that received a call you can't say ‘no’ to, but can only answer ‘yes’ with joy and trust. Those were tears of fear – but also of joy,” Tagle added almost as an afterthought.

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