Tagle: Youth want happy, not judgmental Church

Paterno Esmaquel II
The Manila archbishop dances with people and exudes joy

HAPPY CARDINAL. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle sings and dances in a concert organized by the Catholic Church. Photo by Rappler/Paterno Esmaquel II

MANILA, Philippines – The 56-year-old cardinal danced his way up the stage – which was used minutes earlier by the hip-hop group Philippine All-Stars, rock star Jett Pangan, and a university pep squad.

Priests, nuns, and students shrieked and clapped. It was Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the Manila archbishop, who made a surprise entrance.

A beaming Tagle asked, “Masaya ba kayo?” (Are you happy?)

The audience in the concert erupted, “Yes!”

Wow,” Tagle said. “The spirit is alive! Jesus is alive!” 

It turned out Tagle had his own song number: “Tatanda at Lilipas Din Ako (I, Too, Will Grow Old and Fade),” a popular Filipino song about youth and gratitude. (Watch more in the video below.)

That was during the Concert of the Millennium on October 17, part of the Philippine Conference on New Evengelization that aimed to rekindle the Catholic faith. (READ: Tagle, faith, and ruins from the quake.)

Fast-forward to Friday, October 25, Vatican Radio’s Susy Hodges interviewed Tagle, who attended a conference in Vatican City. Hodges said she noticed Tagle always looks happy.

You exude joy,” she told the cardinal. “Do you think that, too, is a very key aspect when it comes to evangelizing, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel?”

The bishop who dances with people said it is.

Turning off the youth

Citing a survey in the Philippines, Tagle said the youth get “turned off by a Church that is quite judgmental, a Church that comes across as pessimistic and heavy, that does not rejoice at anything, as though there is no sign of hope, not even a single sign of hope in the world.”

The study echoed the findings of another survey in the United States. In a 5-year research that was published in 2011, the US-based Barna Group found “6 significant themes why nearly 3 out of every 5 young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

One of these themes is that churches “seem overprotective.” In the survey, for instance, 23% of respondents said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church.”

Up to 31% of young Christians said “church is boring.”

REKINDLING FAITH. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle leads a candle-lighting ritual to close the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization. Photo by Vincent Go

Tagle told Vatican Radio he understands the youth. “And so they appreciate when there is the capacity to be happy, to be happy about life, to be joyful about life.”

The interviewer shot back, “Not too many prohibitions?”

Tagle answered: “They sort of expect the Church to say no to some things. But if they experience love and joy from us, then I think they are more disposed to listen to the no’s.”

Faces like ‘pickled peppers’

Pope Francis himself has criticized “mournful” attitudes toward religion.

In a homily in May, Francis observed that Christians “are not so accustomed to speak of joy, of happiness” – and instead “prefer to complain.”

The Pope said: “Without joy, we Christians cannot become free; we become slaves to our sorrows. The great Paul VI said that you cannot advance the Gospel with sad, hopeless, discouraged Christians. You cannot. A certain mournful behavior, no? Often Christians behave as if they were going to a funeral procession rather than to praise God, no?”

The pontiff, in another homily in May, said Christians should share this joy with others. He said “if we keep this joy to ourselves, it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled, and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy – only nostalgia, melancholy, which is not healthy.”

Francis said melancholy results in Christian faces that “have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.””Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go,” Francis said.

He added that joy is not merely fun, but is a “gift from God” that “fills us from within.”

A Christian is a man and a woman of joy.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

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