The new Filipino cardinal, who caused a sensation at his recent installation when he cried as Pope Benedict bestowed the red hat on him, has dismissed media speculation tipping him to be the next pope and has instead called for the Church to undertake a “corporate examination of conscience.”
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle spoke with ucanews.com in an exclusive interview days after being made a cardinal by the Pope at the Vatican.
Since his appointment as head of the Church in the Philippines capital, Tagle has been catapulted to the top of the papabili list by many Vatican watchers. He’s even been nicknamed the “Wojtyla from Asia.”
His credentials were strengthened by strong speeches on the sexual abuse crisis in Rome last February and in Dublin during the summer, and the credit he enjoys in Rome was confirmed when Pope Benedict decided to make him the world's second youngest cardinal, at only 55, on November 24.
However, speaking to ucanews.com, Cardinal Tagle dismissed talk of him becoming the next pope as “speculation.”
“There are more real issues to worry about,” he said, adding that after receiving the red hat he was in awe at the thought of possibly being called upon to vote in a future conclave: “I have to reflect on this, it’s a big responsibility.”
Tagle has won over many in his native Philippines as well as in Rome and beyond for his open, joyful attitude, his theological expertise and his proficiency in making use of the modern media. He has a weekly TV show in the Philippines and his Facebook page counts over 100,000 fans.
His outgoing personality might put him in stark contrast to the scholarly, media-shy Ratzinger. But Tagle says it is an “exaggeration” to say that he is the only churchman capable of making the 85-year old German pope laugh from the heart.
The two have known each other for 15 years. In 1997 Tagle was appointed to the International Theological Commission, a Vatican consultative body then presided over by Cardinal Ratzinger.
As a 40-year old priest at the time, Tagle says he was struck by Ratzinger's humility during a synod of Asian bishops which took place the following year, where several issues were raised concerning the Church in Asia. “At the end of a session, getting out of the room, we happened to walk together and he said, ‘Oh, some of those questions are so complex that I would not even know what to say, but they invite more study’.”
Ever since being elected pope, Benedict has often promoted people he has worked with during his 25 years as the Vatican’s doctrinal chief.
As is the case with Tagle: “[Ratzinger] has a spot in his heart for people he has come to know, who have worked with him, even if there was very little chance to talk about personal things,” he says.
“Even now,” Tagle adds, “when he meets me, he always says, ‘Oh, I remember the first time I saw you, I thought you just received first Holy Communion!”
Tagle’s appointment as cardinal was announced last October as bishops from all over the world met in Rome to discuss the challenge of secularization and modern society at the synod on “New Evangelization.”
Rekindling the flame of faith in Western Christian countries is one of the key themes of Benedict's pontificate.
For the Manila archbishop, while this concern is definitely a consequence of Benedict's old world heritage, it shouldn't be dismissed as merely “Eurocentric,” as with urbanization and economic development secularization is spreading quickly in continents like Asia too.
Reflecting on the recent synod, Cardinal Tagle says that when secularization means an “attempt by the world to say, ‘We don’t need God,’ this is not a concern only for the Church” but also for “all religions.”
However, the cardinal stressed that rather than “dismiss secularism” the Church should recognize that in its “healthy” form it could “help” its mission, for example, by strengthening religious freedom.
Most importantly, though, the Church should do “some soul searching and engage in what we can call a ‘corporate examination of conscience’.”
While it is important to focus on and analyze trends in the world that might “eclipse the brilliance of the faith,” the Church should also look at itself.
“Maybe all our sinfulness, all our laxity, all our lack of fervor, our lack of engaging, especially the youth and the joy of being believers, the scandals -- all of these have been painful for people, leading them on a path to distance themselves from the Church.”
As the number of Catholics diminishes in many Western countries, Cardinal Tagle invites the Church not to be afraid of a minority future.
Having a small community is “quite normal in some parts of Asia,” he reminds us. “Sometimes, a Church is more alive when you have a chapel with only fifteen parishioners... We cannot equate the life or death of the Church only on numbers.”
In this smaller Church, Cardinal Tagle says the current pope has a “calming presence,” with his message that, even “if the Church in the West becomes a minority, for as long as the minority has deep faith, lives by the faith, is a witness to the faith, then the Church is vibrant.”