AT A GLANCE
- Veteran Vaticanista John Allen cited Tagle’s 3 strong points: “an effective communicator and missionary,” as the face of the “dramatic growth of Catholicism outside the West” and “pastoral experience” as administrator of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila
- Tagle’s “social capital” was enhanced with the papal visit, and its success is sure to catch the attention of Church leaders worldwide
- But it takes more than popularity, even among peers, to be elected pope
MANILA, Philippines – Then there was that hug that ignited the imagination of many Filipinos: Pope Francis embracing his Asian equivalent, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, at the tarmac.
This was shortly after the Holy Father arrived at the Villamor Airbase tarmac for a 5-day visit.
Uncannily, that embrace between the 78-year-old Pontiff and the 57-year-old Archbishop of Manila resembled the special set of stamps issued by Philpost to immortalize the historic papal visit.
It lasted only a few seconds but it electrified many, including local members of the Church hierarchy – as if they were witnessing the present and the future of the papacy.
The prophetic scene would be replayed during the Pope’s first Eucharistic celebration at the Manila Cathedral.
It was not the first time that the strong bond between the two was captured for eternity. In November 2013, Pope Francis hugged Tagle during the unveiling of a mosaic of the country’s newest saint, Pedro Calungsod, in the Vatican.
But for Filipinos witnessing it first-hand, the scene attains a different level.
“I had goosebumps when I saw it on TV,” a young priest said. “The closeness between the two was very evident. That (scene) said it all.”
“He’s going to be more popular with the other cardinals for sure,” said priest-formator Monsignor Manuel Gabriel.
Netizens were quick to post memes of the two Church leaders and flooded social media sites with wishful thinking that was all too-familiar when the Catholic Church was in search of a new pope when Pope Benedict resigned in February 2013.
At the time, the excitement that accompanied the search for a new pope reached feverish pitch in the Philippines when Tagle was among those floated as a possible dark horse.
In the race for the papacy, veteran Vaticanista John Allen named Tagle as among the possible “papabile.”
“Youthfulness aside, a striking number of people who know Tagle believe that this is a guy who, one day, could be pope,” Allen wrote. Tagle was at the time only 55 years old, the second youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
In assessing Tagle, Allen cited the prelate’s 3 strong points: “an effective communicator and missionary,” as the face of the “dramatic growth of Catholicism outside the West” and “pastoral experience” as administrator of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila.
But as the Vatican saying – “He who enters the conclave as pope, leaves it as a cardinal” – goes, it was the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, who was elected pope. Still, hope springs eternal.
The man who Allen described as the “Asian Pope Francis,” has racked up his own share of write-ups and attention in international media in the run-up to the 5-day papal visit.
The Associated Press described Tagle as a “humble rising star,” while the International Business Times pointed out that Tagle “has become a sudden and unlikely star” during the visit.
The South China Morning Post, in a Sunday headline, observed that Tagle’s star “rises higher with Pope’s visit.”
De La Salle philosophy professor Arcadio Malbarosa agrees that Tagle’s “social capital” was enhanced with the papal visit, and its success is sure to catch the attention of Church leaders worldwide and trigger greater interest in the Filipino prelate.
The Pope’s visit had been a box-office hit, with people ignoring harsh weather just to get see Francis in person, even for a few seconds. At the Luneta Mass culminating his visit, organizers estimated that around 6 million people attended, breaking the previous record of 5 million for a papal gathering.
And part of the credit goes to Tagle as principal host.
Malbarosa, a former seminarian, pointed out that foreign papers that chronicled the papal election in 2013 had already identified Tagle a “distant second” in the papacy.
“Guardedly, I would say that this (papal visit) might help,” Malbarosa said of his take on Tagle’s future as the next pope.
To be sure, in the Vatican’s view, the premier seat of Catholicism in the Philippines, the Archdiocese of Manila, remains “a major unit” of the Catholic Church, specifically in Asia.
“This position has prestige” and it extends to Tagle, Malbarosa said.
More than image, Tagle’s popularity has risen to greater heights, at least locally, retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said.
“A lot of people know him now. He is now more known than before. Filipinos who do not know him outside of Metro Manila now recognize him,” Cruz said.
Being beside the Pope in the jeepney-inspired popemobile wherever the Holy Father went also gave added exposure, although Cruz qualified that it was part of the protocol. “Recall that Cardinal (Jaime) Sin was also always with John Paul II when he was here in 1995.”
More Vatican exposure
But it takes more than popularity, even among peers, to be elected pope.
Cruz, a close friend of John Paul II, said Tagle would have to stay for a considerable time in the Vatican to expand his network.
“He has to go Rome. He has to be appointed to an important position, say the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Cruz pointed out. “He has to gain some experience in administering a bureaucracy like the Vatican.”
The retired prelate observed that Benedict XVI and the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis – spent time in the Vatican and familiarized themselves with the inner workings there, including its politics.
In the case of Benedict XVI, he served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a long time, and later on as Dean of the College of Cardinals before he was elected pope.
In the case of Pope Francis, the first Pontiff to have hailed outside Europe in 1,300 years, he assumed different positions in the Vatican Curia, among them: as member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; the Congregation for the Clergy; the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Commission for Latin America.
Cruz said Tagle got under the good graces of Benedict XVI when he was appointed from 1997 to 2002 to the International Theological Commission, which the former pope, then a cardinal, headed. It was also during that time that Tagle was appointed Bishop of Imus.
“Let us not forget that it was also Benedict XVI who appointed him as Archbishop of Manila and later on named him to the College of Cardinals,” Cruz said.
Cruz said the Curia has to be comfortable with Tagle before he gets a good shot at the papacy. “That’s the Curia reality,” he said.
In any case, Tagle is off to a good start. in 2013, Pope Francis appointed him member of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and in 2014, as member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. – Rappler.com