Cardinal Tagle: ‘Where Children Are Born, the Church Has a Future’

Manila archbishop, president of Caritas, gives book-length interview

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“It was difficult for me to accept the proposal to do this book, because I’m a reserved person, who doesn’t like to place himself in the public eye,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and President of Cartitas Internationalis, responding last week — at the headquarters of “La Civilta Cattolica” — to questions posed by Paolo Ruffini, Director of Tv2000, regarding his book-interview I Have Learned from the Least – My Life, My Hopes, published by Emi and edited by Gerolamo and Lorenzo Fazzini.

The Philippine Cardinal’s affirmation is not an exercise in false modesty; after all his genuine and simple style reveals a constantly joyful look and an amiable language. In the course of the presentation, introduced by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Director of “La Civilta Cattolica,” the Cardinal did not skimp on moments of lightness and amusing jokes.

He himself let it be understood several times that his attitude sinks its roots in his personal history, of a man of the people, who grew up in a fervent Catholic family, used to dealing with people by leaving aside any sort of formalism.

Every day in chaotic Manila, Cardinal Tagle immerses himself in a variegated humanity and brings it spiritual teaching. In fact, he explains, “when we take the Lord’s Word and His example seriously, we, as Church, become more human, and the encounter with Jesus becomes also an encounter with human beings.”

Material poverty is widespread in the Philippines, where however, hidden riches enable one to perceive a light of hope in the future.

The Archbishop of Manila stresses that the resource of the Church in Asia resides in fact in the “suffering of many Asian martyrs, of the simple people who know in a mysterious way the fortitude that only the Lord can give.” And he adds: “Unfortunately, in a Church used to great numbers, there is faith but there is also the temptation to depend on privileges, whereas in a minority Church, there is only the Lord.”

However, Cardinal Tagle says there is another good reason to hope in the future of the Church in Asia: “the presence of so many children, on average a young population.” He gives the example of the Philippines, in whose Churches “there are many, many youngsters.” And, “where there are children and youngsters, there is a future!” he exclaims.

Hope for the future coexists also with idols that constantly threaten modern man. The Cardinal points them out: riches, honor, ambitions, sex, luxury, but also the “desire <to fulfill only> our personal interests and to promote only the wellbeing of my family, my group, of my country.” He also stresses individualism, which is “a form of idolatry.”

None of us, he admits, is immune to the call of idols. Therefore, it is important to make a daily examination of conscience to see “what my idols are, what they have commanded me, and what I have obeyed.”

Moreover, for him every day is a harbinger of “a surprise,” because, the Cardinal reflects humbly, he almost “cannot believe that the Lord called a person like me to be a priest, a Bishop and now a Cardinal.” However, “in the mystery of this vocation, I am also certain that my hands do not work but rather those of the Lord.”

The figure of a Saint that constantly “points the way” to Cardinal Tagle in his ministry is that of Saint Joseph. “He is a silent Saint, an ordinary man, a worker, engaged, whose plan of life is interrupted with an intervention from on High. He is a just man, but also of profound faith. No word of his is preserved in the Bible, but he kept in himself the Word of the Lord.” 

Another biblical figure to which the Cardinal is profoundly linked is the centurion, he who, looking at Jesus, little by little, led him to conclude: “this man is innocent, he is truly the Son of God.’” Cardinal Tagle reveals that “all of us have experienced the effort of contemplation,” however, he adds, the centurion’s patience brings fruit to this effort – “a conversion of which I am in great need,” he explains.

Then the Archbishop of Manila talks about the distractions of an ever more digitalized world. He believes that the Church must know how to use the social media to communicate and evangelize, remembering, however, that when “it becomes only a strategy it’s no longer communication but a temptation to manipulate rather than a desire to create communion.”

Another subject of stringent actuality is the environment, to which Pope Francis dedicated the encyclical Laudato Si’. His personal experience leads the Cardinal to be concerned about climate change. “When I was young — he says in regard to the Philippines — category three was the most powerful degree of typhoons, now it is five, with winds at 250 kilometers per hour.”

Cardinal Tagle considers profitable collaboration with ecological groups, whose commitment he appreciates. However, he points out that “something is missing, spirituality.” He reminds Christians – under the guidance of the biblical teaching – that “creation is a different concept than nature, because it implies a relation between a Creator and His creatures.” Hence the importance of committing oneself to ecological subjects not as political militants but rather as “custodians of Creation.”

The Archbishop of Manila also dedicates one of his reflections to the relation between truth and freedom. “Love always wins,” he explains.

The legacy of the Jubilee of Mercy contributes to this task: “To see the doors that continue to be open,” namely “the wounds of one’s neighbor, of the poor, through whom we see the wounds of the heart of Jesus Risen.

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