‘Terrified’ Tagle takes global center stage

(UPDATED) Now a cardinal, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle is expected to wield huge influence among the world's Catholics. He is considered a potential papal contender

TEARY EYED. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is in tears after Pope Benedict XVI, his mentor, officially made him a cardinal on Saturday. Photo from AFP

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On the day he learned of his new assignment and the day he officially began it, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, who became a cardinal Saturday evening, November 24, did the same thing.

He cried.

Plucked from the small diocese of Imus, Cavite and now a Prince of the Catholic Church, Tagle admitted he felt “terrified.” Starting 6 pm in the Philippines, however, there would be no turning back for this 55-year-old head of one of Asia’s most influential archdioceses.

IN TEARS. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle cries as he hugs a friend who congratulated him, after a Mass in honor of St Pedro Calungsod last November 7. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Tagle will start to play a more global role after Pope Benedict XVI, in a surprise consistory this year, formally made him a cardinal along with 5 other non-Europeans in an hour-long ritual in Vatican City. Having trained under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Tagle will serve as counselor to his mentor, the Pope. In case Benedict dies or resigns, Tagle will also be among 120 cardinals eligible to vote for the Pope’s successor.

On the Sunday before he left, November 18, Tagle said his installation as cardinal “is a grace of God, not only for myself but for the Church in Manila and the Church in the Philippines.” But the once reluctant bishop could not help but break down on his weekly TV program.

“It was like a future coming to my present, in a way disturbing my present. I felt confused, I felt lost. I did not know what to say. I felt like something or someone greater than I am, someone that I could not control, just came and took over,” Tagle, a popular TV preacher, said on his Sunday program The Word Exposed.

It was, for him, like the end of the world – “but it was an offer of a new creation, a new mission,” said Tagle, who began to cry and speak in fragments.

“And instead of me being the powerful one controlling my life… Jesus saying, ‘I am the power in your life,’” Tagle said, with tears flowing down his cheeks. “I will take over, and he invites… to be part of this Church, of the servants.’” (Watch more in the latter part of the video below)

In his message immediately after Benedict XVI named him cardinal in October, Tagle said he was consoled as well as “’terrified’ by the magnitude of the task at hand.”

“It requires a further broadening of horizon, a careful study of worldwide developments in society and the Church, and an intensification of the mission of the Archdiocese of Manila and the Church in the Philippines even in different parts of the world, especially in Asia,” the cardinal said.

‘Punish erring priests’

Tagged by foreign journalists as a potential papal contender, Tagle is expected to wield huge influence among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

One of the few Filipino bishops on Facebook, Tagle has become cardinal at a time when the Catholic Church is battling irrelevance globally amid rising secularism. In the Philippines, he is seen as a voice of moderation on divisive issues, such as the Reproductive Health bill, with him sticking to doctrine without engaging in name-calling like a number of clerics.

FACEBOOK-SAVVY. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle checks his Facebook page, which has over 107,000 'likes' as of posting time. Photo from

He will, as cardinal, likely help steer the Church in tackling issues like clericalism and pedophile priests.

He has made his stance clear, especially in one of his most applauded speeches that drove his audience, including bishops and priests, to tears.

“I am disturbed,” he said, “when some people who do not even know me personally conclude that my being a bishop automatically makes me closer to God than they could ever be.”

“My words are God’s words! My desires are God’s desires! My anger is God’s anger! My actions are God’s actions!” said Tagle, echoing misconceptions of many Catholics in his speech at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008.

 “Oh my! What power!” said Tagle, eliciting laughter.

“If I am not cautious, I might just believe it, and I might start demanding your offerings – of the best food, the best wine, money, cars, houses, adulation, submission! After all, I am God – hah! I might take so much delight in my stature and its benefits that I might end up being callous to the needs of the poor and the earth,” Tagle said. (Watch more in the video below.)

He has thus challenged the Church to be humbler, eschewing a “triumphalistic, know-it-all type of institution.” 

With the Church facing sex abuse cases, Tagle has also said erring priests should be punished.

Workers’ advocate

An advocate of workers’ rights, Tagle has likewise delivered scathing words against a society that puts business over the underprivileged.

In his 2008 speech in Quebec, Tagle criticized people who “have exchanged the true God for idols like profit, prestige, pleasure, and control.” “To keep these false gods, their worshippers sacrifice other people’s lives and the earth,” said the prelate, who is known to take public transport in solidarity with the poor.

In a thundering voice with impassioned gestures, Tagle said: “How many factory workers are being denied the right wages for the god of profit? How many women are being sacrificed to the god of domination? How many children are being sacrificed to the god of lust? How many trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god of ‘progress’? How many poor people are being sacrificed to the god of greed? How many defenseless people are being sacrificed to the god of national security?”

CHARISMATIC BISHOP. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle is seen as deeply connected to the grassroots. Photo from Tagle's Facebook page

He will continue to deliver messages like this – and in a more powerful voice – after he became a cardinal on Saturday.

Will this make him cry again? He is easily brought to tears, according to friends. But the newest cardinal from the Philippines is ready to face this challenge. –

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