News of the appointment of Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila as a cardinal tickled the imagination of some Filipinos – bishops included – to suggest that at last an Asian may be closer to becoming Pope. The head of the public affairs committee of the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan, even ventured to say that Tagle’s elevation to the cardinalate makes papacy very possible. "The pope is elected usually from among the cardinals. That makes him close to the possibility," Iniguez said, adding that Tagle’s appointment means Pope Benedict XVI appreciates the Manila prelate's theological role in the Church. Henrietta de Villa, former Philippine ambassador to the Vatican, admitted that she has been praying since Tagle became bishop in 2001 that he will become pope in the future. Why not? Romulo Ponte, a priest who dabbles in writing commentaries and news stories from the province of Laguna, said Tagle is no stranger to the inner workings of the Vatican. As a young priest, Tagle served under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Ponte said the Pope personally chose Tagle as one of only two Asian bishops to become Synod Father during the month-long meeting of Church leaders in Rome this month. John L. Allen Jr., senior correspondent of the National Cathol Reporter, in May included Tagle in the "long shot" list to be the next Pope. Allen wrote: "At 54, Tagle is already a key point of reference for Catholicism in Asia, the 'go-to' figure within the Asian bishops’ conference on most theological questions. "He’s taken strong positions against a proposed 'Reproductive Health' bill in the Philippines, which includes promotion of birth control, yet his towering social concern is defense of the poor, and he’s got a strong environmental streak. "He’s a gifted communicator, making him a sought-after speaker and media personality. He drew rave reviews for his performance at a 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec where observers say he brought an entire stadium to tears. One Filipino commentator has said that Tagle has 'a theologian’s mind, a musician’s soul and a pastor’s heart'." Allen, however, said that although Tagle studied in Rome, he has no real Vatican experience. He said that during a Vatican summit in February on the sex abuse crisis, "Tagle was caught off guard when reporters asked what the law is in his country on reporting accusations of child abuse, suggesting to some that he hasn’t assimilated the lessons of the crisis elsewhere." But Ponte said Tagle is "very brilliant" even when he was still studying for the priesthood at the Jesuit Ateneo de Manila University. The future cardinal graduated summa cum laude in Theology at Ateneo’s Loyola School of Theology and San Jose Seminary, both in Quezon City, in 1982 while teaching full time. Tagle was ordained priest for the Diocese of Imus on February 27, 1982. But most Filipino bishops, although they are praying for Tagle, are more realistic when it comes to talking about the papacy. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa said Tagle is "a great asset to the Church of today" but "only God can decide who will be Pope." "To be Pope is not a matter of chance. It is decided from above," he said. "No one had a big chance. Every cardinal today has a slim chance," Arguelles said. Outspoken retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz poured cold water on the papal dreams of Filipinos, advising them not to dwell on the future. "The College of Cardinals that elects the Holy Father are mostly from Europe, North America... so I will not go that far," he said. Cruz said one reason Tagle was named cardinal was because he is close to the pope. "There’s a personal knowledge between them two, so the pope must have known his talents and his theological expertise," he said. The retired prelate said it would not be a surprise if Pope Benedict XVI gives Tagle a post in the Vatican in the coming months. That would further tickle the imagination of Filipinos who have been longing for some good news in the midst of disasters, scandals and even pre-Vatican II religiosity. Joe Torres is the ucanews.com bureau chief in Manila
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