Catholic Church

The weight of Cardinal Tagle’s new award, the highest honor from France

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The weight of Cardinal Tagle’s new award, the highest honor from France

LEGION OF HONOR. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (2nd from left) poses with family and friends after receiving the highest order of merit from the French government, February 15, 2024.

Courtesy of Father Gregory Gaston

The Legion of Honor is the latest recognition for Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 66, who is considered a candidate to succeed Pope Francis

MANILA, Philippines – Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, former archbishop of Manila, got another boost to his international stature after France bestowed on him the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest order of merit.

The French government handed this award to Tagle in a ceremony at Villa Bonaparte in Rome on Thursday, February 15. The ambassador of France to the Holy See, Florence Mangin, presented the recognition to Tagle.

The cardinal received the award in the presence of his brother Manny Tagle, who represented his family, Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Myla Grace Macahilig, Philippine Ambassador to Italy Neal Imperial, and high-ranking Filipino priests in Rome, including the head of the worldwide Dominican order, Father Gerard Francisco Timoner III of Daet, Camarines Norte.

The Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize individuals, including foreigners, who advance the French virtues of liberty and equality. 

The Legion consists of five classes, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “listed in descending rank: grand cross (limited to 80 members), grand officer (200), commander (1,000), officer (4,000), and knight, or chevalier (unlimited).”

Tagle holds the rank of officer.

The factors at play

This is the latest global recognition for Tagle, a 66-year-old Filipino cardinal who is considered one of the leading candidates to succeed Pope Francis.

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FILIPINO PRIDE. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle poses with the Filipino contingent at his awarding in Rome, along with representatives from the Dicastery for Evangelization. Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Patrick Huang, SJ

Tagle is currently one of two pro-prefects at the Dicastery for Evangelization. This is the only Vatican department led by the Pope himself. Tagle is the Pope’s right-hand man in this department, along with the other pro-prefect, Italian-born Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

He is also one of the highest-ranking cardinals in the Catholic Church, after the Pope broke tradition to give him the rank of cardinal-bishop in 2020.

Tagle’s stature at the Vatican, in itself, makes him a heavyweight in the Catholic Church. 

This award from France makes him an even more prominent churchman.

France, after all, remains an influential center of power in the Catholic Church, even if church attendance in this Catholic majority country is declining. It is the birthplace of world-renowned saints such as Joan of Arc, Therese of Lisieux, and Bernadette Soubirous, and is home to prominent theologians such as Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

It is also one of the countries with the highest number of cardinal electors who will help elect the next pope. Six of 130 cardinal electors – or 4.6% of them – come from France. This is a significant number considering that there are 68 countries with cardinal electors, and 52 of these countries only have one elector each.

The Philippines, the country with the world’s third highest number of Catholics, has only two cardinal electors: Tagle and his successor as Manila archbishop, Cardinal Jose Advincula.

Why France awarded Tagle

The French government’s reasons for awarding Tagle the Legion of Honor can be found in the citation read by the French ambassador, and the Filipino cardinal’s response, as shared to Rappler by Father Gregory Gaston, rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome. 

In awarding Tagle the Legion of Honor, the French government said it is honoring his “remarkable career as a man of the Church at the service of the common good.”

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HUMOR. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s remarks at the awarding ceremony amuse the French ambassador. Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Patrick Huang, SJ

French Ambassador Mangin cited Tagle’s achievements, such as having been a member of the International Theological Commission as early as 1997, and having been a bishop of Imus, Cavite, and archbishop of Manila. She also mentioned Tagle’s position at the Dicastery for Evangelization.

She emphasized Tagle’s “concern for the poorest people,” including his work for AIDS patients when he was a student. “Particularly in Manila, you are devoted to the poor, to victims of violence and drug addiction. You are committed to migrants and the victims of natural disasters,” she said.

“Whenever we meet you, we are struck by your simplicity and the warmth of your welcome, as well as by your gentleness and sensitivity,” the ambassador added.

She likewise thanked Tagle for his links with France.

In his work as pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, he is “responsible for seven French dioceses: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, French Guinea, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Mayotte.”

Mangin added that he is “close to the French association Anak-TNK, which helps vulnerable children in Manila, in collaboration with our compatriot Father Matthieu Dauchez.” 

In May 2022, he also presided over the beatification Mass of Blessed Pauline Jaricot, a 19th-century Catholic from Lyon, France, who founded the Pontificial Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which has close ties with Tagle’s Vatican evangelization department.

In his response to the ambassador, Tagle said he views the award as a recognition of the Catholic Church and its members who tirelessly work to spread the Gospel. He said many others also deserve credit, and “they are legion!”

“I interpret this not so much as a recognition of my personal work, but as an affirmation of the mission of the whole Church called evangelization,” Tagle said. 

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BROTHERS. Manny Tagle, brother of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, is present on behalf of their family. Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Patrick Huang, SJ

He later thanked his parents and his brother, “who have taught me about mission and service,” and his friends and coworkers in the Philippines, particularly the Diocese of Imus and the Archdiocese of Manila, as well as the Dicastery for Evangelization and Pope Francis. 

“Most of all, I praise our greatest evangelizers: the poor, the migrants, and the refugees who bear the face of Jesus, calling us to justice, truth, love, and peace. They also teach us the gospel of hope and joy. They share the gospel through their patience, perseverance, and sweet smiles. They are mostly hidden but they are real,” Tagle said.

“They are many of them,” the Filipino cardinal added. “They are legion, Legion of Honor.” –

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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