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Cardinal Tagle elected head of global Catholic charities

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Cardinal Tagle elected head of global Catholic charities
Described as the 'Asian Francis,' Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle leads Caritas Internationalis as its first Asian president

MANILA, Philippines – Called a rising star in the Catholic Church, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has been elected the first Asian president of Caritas Internationalis, the world’s biggest network of Catholic charities.

Tagle on Thursday, May 14, took the place of two-termer Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, another towering figure tagged by veteran Vatican analyst John Allen Jr as the “vice pope.” 

This becomes Tagle’s 6th international position under Pope Francis, the Latin American pontiff who entrusted this Asian cardinal with one of his pet projects. 

The 57-year-old Tagle, who was reportedly in Chicago, told Caritas delegates on the phone: “Thank you for your trust. I’m limited in my capacities but with all of you, with the love that Jesus has poured into our hearts, and in the name of all of the poor people in the world, I accept this election.”

“Let us together strengthen the church of the poor so our witness can help guide us to a world of understanding justice, true freedom, and peace,” added the man seen as a possible successor of Francis. 

Caritas Internationalis is said to be the world’s biggest network of aid organizations next to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 

This 118-year-old group includes at least 164 national aid organizations, including one in the Philippines. Caritas – the Latin word for charity – aims to help the poor and promote social justice.

Caritas Internationalis elected Tagle in Rome during its 20th general assembly, which runs from May 12 to 17. 

Tagle ‘the darling for Europe’

In an interview with the Catholic news website Crux, the head of Caritas Paraguay, Bishop Juan Bautista Gavilan Velasquez, described Tagle as an “optimistic young man, with a very expressive faith and capable of directing all of Caritas pastoral actions.” 

“The fact that the man in charge of leading the pope’s ‘solidarity army’ comes, like Francis, from the peripheries, is a great sign,” Gavilan said.

Fr Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, pointed out that Caritas Asia led the “clamor” to elect Tagle as president, according to the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). 

“The charisma and reputation of the cardinal is not only here in the Philippines and it’s because he remains much the same low-profile personality. He’s not grandstanding but is making a huge impact,” Gariguez said. 

Chacko Joseph, a Caritas Internationalis program head in the Philippines, agreed that Tagle “has many supporters from most Caritas networks,” CBCP News also reported.

Joseph said: “I strongly believe that Cardinal Tagle is the darling for Europe. He is well-versed with everybody there and he is a down to earth person.”

Explaining why Tagle was set to be elected Caritas president, the Catholic News Agency earlier said Tagle “has been widely appreciated for his work carried out with local Caritas agencies in the face of frequent typhoons” hitting the Philippines. 

Tagle, after all, has not only appealed for aid for the Philippines after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) killed more than 6,300 people in November 2013.  

He has also appealed for donations for Nepal, which was devastated by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in April, and Vanuatu, which was ravaged by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam in March. (READ: Cardinal Tagle to Filipinos: Help storm-hit Vanuatu)

6 int’l posts under Pope Francis

Tagle already chairs Caritas Manila, the social services arm of the Archdiocese of Manila.

His new position as Caritas Internationalis president gives Tagle greater prominence. 

For one, he replaces Rodriguez, one of the cardinals closest to Francis. 

The Pope in fact named Rodriguez on April 13, 2013, as the coordinator of the group of 8 cardinals to advise him on governing the Catholic Church. Allen said this made him “arguably the second most powerful man in Catholicism.”

Like the cardinal from Honduras, Tagle is one of the Pope’s most trusted bishops. 

Even before becoming president of Caritas Internationalis, he had already received 5 new international positions in the Catholic Church under Francis. (READ: In 2 years, Pope gives plum posts to Filipinos)

The most prominent among these appointments is his role as a president-delegate of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October 2014, one of the Pope’s pet projects. 

The Manila archbishop’s new positions under Francis include the following:

  • President, Catholic Biblical Federation
  • Member, Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • Member, Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Consecrated Life
  • Member, Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Noting Tagle’s rise in the global scene, Allen described Tagle as the “Asian Francis.” He is touted as possibly the next pontiff. –

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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