In Manila, Cardinal Tagle meets Pope’s ‘brother’

Paterno Esmaquel II
In Manila, Cardinal Tagle meets Pope’s ‘brother’
Largely unnoticed in the French president's entourage in the Philippines, Patriarch Bartholomew is among the world's towering religious figures

MANILA, Philippines – More than a month after Pope Francis visited the Philippines, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle met the religious leader whom the Pope considers his brother.

In a private meeting in the Philippines, Tagle spoke with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the second largest Christian body in the world, the 260-million-strong Orthodox Christian Church.

The Orthodox Christian Church developed after the Great Schism in 1054. This schism “divided the Christian church into an Eastern, Greek church centered in Constantinople (Istanbul today) and a Western, Latin church centered in Rome,” the Pew Research Center explained.

INFORMAL MEETING. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (left) and Patriarch Bartholomew (right) meet in a classroom at the Lycée Français de Manille, a French school in Parañaque City. Photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila

Tagle’s private secretary, Fr Reginald Malicdem, told Rappler that the two leaders’ meeting “took place for an hour” on February 27. It happened in a classroom at the Lycée Français de Manille, a French school in Parañaque City.

Malicdem said on Thursday, March 5: “It was not really a formal meeting. No serious matter was discussed. The atmosphere was light and friendly. They talked about the recent visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines and the status of the Church in the Philippines and the Orthodox Church. The Patriarch also talked about his previous visit to the Philippines and invited the Cardinal to visit Turkey.”

Tagle and Bartholomew held their discussions in English, Malicdem noted, as the Patriarch “is very fluent in English.”

The two leaders also exchanged gifts.

SYMBOLIC GIFTS. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle gives Patriarch Bartholomew a Coptic-style icon with 'alibata' markings. Photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila

Malicdem said Bartholomew gave Tagle “a pectoral cross, a commemorative medal, and books on the Orthodox Church.”

Tagle, in turn, gave Bartholomew “an icon of the crucifixion made by a Filipino priest, Fr Emmanuel ‘Pong’ del Rosario of the Diocese of Cubao.”

“The icon, while Coptic in style, has ‘alibata‘ markings on it, instead of the usual Greek, to give it a Filipino character,” Malicdem said. (Alibata, also known as baybayin, was the script ancient Filipinos used before Spain colonized the Philippines in the 16th century.)

Elected to his position in 1991, the 75-year-old Patriarch sought the meeting with Tagle. The two leaders spoke while French President Francois Hollande met with French nationals in the French school.

CORDIAL MEETING. Patriarch Bartholomew (left) also meets Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle's private secretary, Fr Reginald Malicdem (right). Photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila

Successors of siblings

Having visited the Philippines in 2000, the Patriarch returned as part of the entourage of Hollande, who visited the Southeast Asian country from February 26 to 27. (READ: Filipino, French presidents make joint call for climate action)

An environment advocate also known as the “Green Pope,” Bartholomew spoke at a climate change forum at the National Museum on February 26.

He ended up as a footnote in most news reports, as Hollande’s other companions – French actresses Melanie Laurent and Marion Cotillard – got much more attention.

Bartholomew, however, is one of Christianity’s towering figures.

WORLD LEADER. Speaking to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (right), Patriarch Bartholomew (left) heads the 260-million-strong Orthodox Christian Church. Photo by Noli Yamsuan/Archdiocese of Manila

Considered the Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew leads a church with “12% of the entire Christian population,” according to data from the Pew Research Center.

He also brings with him a rich religious tradition. Much of this stems from the Great Schism in 1054, when the Eastern church rejected, among other things, the authority of the Pope who is the Bishop of Rome.

Roman Catholics believe the Pope is the successor of Peter, the leader of Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles.

Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, consider the Patriarch as the successor of Andrew. 

Peter and Andrew were siblings.

MOVING GESTURE. Pope Francis bows to Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I during a service focusing on Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation at St. George Church in Istanbul, Turkey on November 29, 2014. File photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Rebuilding their family

Now their successors promise to rebuild their family.

Francis, who is the 266th Bishop of Rome, and Bartholomew, who is the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople, pledged on November 30, 2014, “to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all between Catholics and Orthodox.”

In Turkey on November 29, 2014, the eve of the feast of Andrew, Francis bowed before Bartholomew in a gesture of unity. (READ: Pope of the fringes: Francis as pilgrim-diplomat)

Francis explained that as Peter and Andrew “were blood brothers,” he and Bartholomew remain “brothers in hope.”

Bartholomew, for his part, said the call for unity becomes more urgent because of terrorist threats, such as those from the Islamic State (ISIS), which recently beheaded Egyptian Christians.

PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS. An image grab taken from a video released by the jihadist media arm Al-Hayat Media Centre on February 15, 2015, purportedly shows black-clad Islamic State fighters leading handcuffed hostages, said to be Egyptian Coptic Christians, wearing orange jumpsuits before their alleged decapitation on a seashore in Tripoli. Photo by Al-Hayat Media Centre/Handout/AFP

Bartholomew told Francis: “We no longer have the luxury of isolated action. The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom.”

On February 27, Bartholomew and Tagle met as Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics work toward unity.

Malicdem said in his e-mail to Rappler: “The Patriarch came to the Philippines as part of the delegation of the French President for the Climate Change Summit. But since the Patriarch is also a religious leader, it is appropriate a member of the hierarchy of the Philippine Church meets him. This is in the spirit of ecumenism and dialogue.” – 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.