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Filipino would make ideal modern-day pope, say those who know him

Cardinal Tagle shows his very human side

A young Luis Antonio Tagle with Pope John Paul II A young Luis Antonio Tagle with Pope John Paul II
  • ucanews.com reporter, Manila
  • Philippines
  • March 13, 2013
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He cried when he was named Archbishop of Manila in October, 2011, and then a year later the world saw him shed more tears after he was named cardinal. If he is chosen as the next Pope, Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle is expected to be every bit as emotional.

According to those that have been close to him over the years, tears and laughter are all par for the course for this 55-year-old cardinal who many in the Philippines say would bring genuine personality to the papacy.

"The saving grace of Chito – whether he becomes pope or not – will be his sense of humor," says Father Robert Reyes, a former classmate of Tagle at the San Jose Seminary in Quezon City, Manila.

Although some may interpret this emotion as a sign of weakness, Reyes argues that the humanity in this behavior points to the exact opposite quality in this Filipino cardinal.

“For a man not to be afraid to show his tears takes courage,” he says.

Henrietta de Villa, the former Philippines ambassador to the Vatican, says that above all Tagle is human, a strong draw for a church looking to reconnect.

"He is believable, and that I think is what the Church needs. The Church should be seen and experienced as a mother and teacher,” she says.

While Benedict XV was a prolific and scholarly writer, Reyes points out that Tagle ranks among the brightest minds in the Church. A “straight-A” student, the young Tagle was renowned for helping other students try to improve their own grades up.

“They lined up in front of him for help before exams,” says Reyes. “[He] had no time to review his own lessons yet he was always number one in class.”

Tagle was also a keen musician. Only when it came to sport did Tagle fail to shine, says Reyes.

“I think Chito knows what he can do and what he cannot do. That’s why he is able to bring people together,” he says. “He doesn’t make you feel that he is smarter than you. He’ll make people feel comfortable – even the poorest of the poor, the dumbest of the dumb. He won’t make you feel that he is superior.”

While many leading Church figures have remained staunch traditionalists, Tagle – the second youngest cardinal after India’s Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal – has embraced policies and positions which have shown empathy with the lives of ordinary people.

He has advocated dialogue and listening in the Philippines' long running battles over contraception, and has also shown a refreshing openness to dialogue with other religions, say observers.

Father Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, says that this everyman appeal extends to the way that this young cardinal lives his life. In a country famous for bishops being driven around in sleek sedans escorted by police convoys, Tagle is well known for his low-key preference for public transport.

“He keeps everything simple to be in solidarity with the poor,” says Pascual.

Despite a long list of attributes which many see as ideal for a modern-day pope, Tagle remains an outside chance among the Papabili. But if he makes it, expect roughly 90 million deliriously happy Filipinos, and perhaps just one in tears.  

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