Why Tagle is netizens’ top ‘papabile’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
If cardinals voted on the basis of social media 'likes' alone, Manila's Luis Antonio Tagle could become pope

FACEBOOK-SAVVY. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle checks his Facebook page, which has over 125,300 'likes' as of posting time. Photo from facebook.com/archbishoptagle

MANILA, Philippines – If Catholics can reach their cardinals only through Facebook and Twitter, over half of what they’ll hear will come from the second youngest Prince of the Catholic Church, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

An Italian start-up, Decisyon, said Tagle has generated 52% of social media content from among papal contenders on Facebook and Twitter. In a report by the prominent Italian newspaper La Republica, Decisyon said Tagle, a papabile, has produced over 57,000 posts and shares through his Facebook page.

Over 125,300 people have “liked” Tagle’s Facebook page, which is run by Jesuit Communications for his Sunday TV program, “The Word Exposed.”

In terms of social media presence, runners-up include New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has over 24,000 fans on Facebook and 90,700 followers on Twitter; and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who has over 42,000 followers on Twitter.

In a 2,000-year-old Church often criticized for aversion to change, this is Tagle’s mindset: “Social networking is very much welcomed by the Church, so let us not look at this whole new world simply as an enemy. There is much good in it.”

And Tagle practices what he preaches.

PAPAL CONTENDER. Vatican watchers consider Cardinal Tagle a potential successor of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Photo from news.va's Facebook page

Despite a cardinal’s busy schedule, Tagle sticks to a weekly Facebook ritual, said Jesuit Communications executive director Fr Nono Alfonso. For around 30 minutes before he tapes his weekly program, Tagle makes it a point to browse his Facebook page and personally answer questions on the Catholic faith.

“He believes in the power of media, and now it has taken the form of social media. Second, it’s where the young people are,” Alfonso told Rappler.

Shallow ‘friends’

Tagle’s understanding doesn’t stop with technology, however. What can we expect from a former member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, a protege of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?

A 55-year-old cardinal, Tagle knows the pitfalls of social media – and he means the spiritual.

In a speech in 2012, he warned against shallow human relationships, for instance, resulting from a “rush” to add as many Facebook “friends” as possible. He questioned the modern definition of “friend” – is it a mere product of a single click, or the fruit of “basic human relationships” through the years?

“The rush to collect friends whom I will like, and hopefully will like me – isn’t this an indication that individualism, loneliness, has really crept, so there is a deep cry for friends? ‘And I cannot wait. I need you now,’” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. (Watch his full speech below.)

“And it is a prayer, it is a cry, it’s a cry to God. It’s a cry to neighbors and humanity: ‘Do you see me? Do I exist for you, or will I be forever alone? Will I ever have a partner, a friend?’”

Tagle said he witnesses this “cry” in the abandoned, especially children. He said this poses a deeper challenge.

“Please, take the word ‘friend’ seriously. Don’t reduce it to a mere label. Don’t use it simply to prove to somebody else, ‘I have more friends than you do,’ such that it becomes more of a contest rather than a Christian response to people’s need to be connected, to be loved, to be heard, to be understood, to belong,” Tagle said.

“And this is very Christian,” he added, “for Jesus told his disciples, ‘I no longer call you slaves; I call you friends.’”

While he is the most prominent cardinal on Facebook, Tagle emphasized time-tested forms of human relationships – “a smile, a recognition of the other person, a manifestation of compassion.”

GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS. Cardinal Tagle doesn't hesitate to ride a pedicab, a cheap mode of transportation, in solidarity with the poor. Photo courtesy of the Sto Niño de Tondo Parish Youth Ministry

It is this that endears Tagle to netizens – not merely his Facebook page, but the way he connects with them. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com