CEBU CITY, Philippines – Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle criticized politicians, parents, and even his fellow bishops as he delivered a scathing litany against the “throwaway culture” across all sectors of society.
Leaving no stone unturned, Tagle also urged husbands, wives, teachers, and priests to share “gifts,” not just leftovers.
Tagle spoke on Thursday, January 28, at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), a huge week-long conference that aims to discuss the Mass or the Eucharist, as well as its impact on society.
“Buying for the sake of having leads to throwing away. And we throw away goods that the poor should benefit from but could not afford to buy,” said Tagle, who became a contender for the papacy partly because of his rousing speeches at two previous IECs.
“But is it not ironic that the culture of accumulation is also the culture of throwing away? Who has something to throw away? Only those who have accumulated. And they have accumulated what they do not need,” added the cardinal who heads Caritas Internationalis, the world’s biggest network of Catholic charities.
Tagle cited the “throwaway culture” often mentioned by Pope Francis. (READ: 'People thirst while golf courses abound in water')
The cardinal known as “the Asian Francis,” however, made it clear that the “throwaway culture” involves not only purchased goods.
To explain this, he launched into litany chastising various sectors of society.
“Husbands who are here,” Tagle said, “are you tempted to throw away your wife like a home appliance? She is a gift; don’t throw her away!”
“Wives, are you about to throw away your husbands like junk? Think twice, your husband is a gift.”
“Parents, do you see in your son or daughter that gives you some difficulties, a thing to be thrown away, or do you see in him or her a gift of God?”
“Mothers, do you consider the baby in your womb a burden or a problem to be thrown away, or a gift of life?”
“Teachers, will you throw away slow learners among your students, or will you treasure them as gifts, especially if you are teaching in a Catholic school?”
“Politicians – mhmm! – will you throw away people’s taxes for your parties and shopping, or guard them as gifts for social service?” he asked.
At this point, the IEC's estimated 12,000 delegates applauded, as the name “Cardinal Tagle” also rose to become the fourth top trending topic on Twitter.
Laughing, Tagle continued: “My dear reverend novice mistress, do you treat a rather unique novice as a problem to be thrown away, or a gift of mystery? How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
“Bishops, do you see our rather independent-minded priests worthy of being thrown away, or as gifts providing collaboration?”
“Priests, religious, and lay people, do you want to throw us bishops away, too? Believe it or not, even bishops could be gifts,” he said.
Wedding gown for Yolanda survivors
To better stress his point, Tagle recalled one donation for survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013, back then the most powerful storm to ever make landfall.
“And may I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters,” he said in a raised voice. “When you send relief goods to victims of natural calamities, please, do not send what you have thrown away! You are just decluttering your closet.”
“Imagine, during the time of Haiyan or Yolanda, as we were unpacking some of the donations, there was a wedding gown. Who would use a wedding gown? They were just throwing away unused clothing to the poor!”
Tagle – in tears – also recalled another story that shows the opposite.
He recounted his experience as a parish priest in the 1990s, when he called a poor girl with polio to join him at the Washing of the Feet ritual on Holy Thursday.
Departing from the tradition of having only men at the ritual, he also invited the youth, sick, poor, women, people with disabilities, and other “unknowns” as among the 12 “disciples” for the Washing of the Feet.
Tagle described the girl as one “who regularly sold flowers and candles at the church grounds,” and who “had to walk on crutches.”
“Many people must have bought from her candles, flowers, without seeing her, without knowing her. But that evening, to commemorate the Supper of the Lord, she processed to the altar, bearing the pains and sufferings of the poor and the lame.”
“I will never forget how it felt to hold, to wash, and to kiss her foot, her limp and shriveled foot. It would be forever etched in my memory,” Tagle said, his voice cracking.
The girl returned to him a few hours after the Mass. “Father,” the girl told him, “people flocked to me after the Mass, and they bought my flowers and candles.”
“Then she asked me, ‘Will you wash my feet again next year?’”
Crying, Tagle said: “She is no longer just a polio-stricken flower and candle vendor. She has entered the community. The wall of alienation has been torn down at the Supper of the Lord.”
Even Jesus was 'thrown away'
Tagle, president of the Catholic Biblical Federation, then reminded his flock: “Mind you, the Bible is filled with people who were thrown away.”
The cardinal recalled the following biblical figures: “Joseph, thrown away and sold by his brothers; David, threatened to be thrown away by King Saul; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, thrown away into hiding during her pregnancy. Joseph and Mary, thrown away to the manger by closed doors.”
Finally, he said: “Jesus, thrown away by the jealousy and fear of power-hungry politicians, thrown away by self-righteous religious leaders, and finally thrown away by the betrayal and denial of friends.”
“All of them were thrown away by an unfriendly world. But God took them in his gentle hands and gives them to us as his gifts,” he said.
“On the night Jesus was betrayed, on the night when all forces were conspiring to throw him away, he gave himself, as a gift of love. ‘No one takes my life from me; I lay it down on my own.’”
Eventually, Tagle ended his speech with another litany – this time, thanking people who, in the words of an author, would otherwise be thrown “into invisibility.”
Following a pregnant pause, then raising his arms as well as his voice, Tagle said in the packed IEC Pavilion: “To the many people who arrange the seats here before we come every morning, and who stay behind while we are probably already sleeping in our hotels, thank you.”
“To those who are preparing our food early morning, and who clean up after us, and stay till the late hours of the night, thank you.”
“For the drivers who wait for hours to pick us up and to take us back home, missing their families and their meals, thank you.”
Tagle added, “You make this Eucharistic Congress truly a culture of Eucharistic love.” – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of 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 him at firstname.lastname@example.org.